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Today’s scripture is challenging. Much like the situation in which we find ourselves today in our diverse con-texts. Jesus has left a tense conflictual encounter with the religious leaders (Pharisees) who oppose his min-istry, disagree with his vision, and even object to his personal authority. Jesus heads for the country: the borderlands. Maybe he’s trying to get away for a retreat, or to escape the growing stress of constantly butt-ing heads with the Pharisees every time he opens his mouth.
He goes to the borderlands of their religious power. And it’s also the border of the “boundary between old and new, male and female between Jew and Gentile, between friend and enemy, and even between holy and demonic.” On this margin an anonymous woman, defined by her race and desperation comes to him. She cries out begging for Jesus to heal her daughter. It’s a scream, a shriek, a word used elsewhere to de-scribe the cries of a woman in the pain of labor (Revelation 12:2). As she cried out at the birth of her daughter, her too she cries out seeking for a new birth for her dying child. In doing so she demonstrates her great faith. She’s not just a Gentile. She’s a Canaanite – the historic enemy people of the Israelites. Yet she recognizes Jesus as the royal and messianic Son of David: the Savior. (What the religious leaders rejected in the preceding story (Matthew 15:1-20).
Weirdly, Jesus doesn’t respond to her. His annoyed disciples try to get rid of her. Then Jesus says he’s come to work first with the Israelites, before other peoples. But these three obstacles do not dissuade the woman. She kneels before Jesus, in a position of worship and prayer. It’s the same position as the Magi before the Christ child (Matt 2:11); a leper seeking healing (Matt 8:2); a synagogue leader (Matt 9:19) and even the disciples (14:33). Her worship seems to break down the silence of Jesus. He affirms his baptismal vocation as the Beloved Child of God. He is the promised Son of David and also the savior of all the nations.
Does she change Jesus’ mind? Does her worship move him past inherent racism (he seems to call her a dog – a common derogatory name for Gentiles by the Jews in that age)? What lesson does her example of faith hold for us in our age of religious-rooted fights over authority and vision?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & EXAMEN:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in the text?
• Why does Jesus decline to help the woman and then change his mind?
• How is the Spirit of God inviting you – or us as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this scripture?