Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
I have a member of my team who has many talents, one of which is to ask the awkward questions that unlock a problem – she is highly effective as a manager because she encourages her staff to ask questions and make suggestions, and ask for help when they don’t understand. When I read this story I think of her – and guiltily remember the times when I’d like to be like the disciples and brush her off in favour of finishing a discussion on time and rushing to my next commitment.
This Canaanite woman may not get remembered by name, but she is unique in seeming to change Jesus’ mind – making him think again about who he was sent to, with the audacity to challenge him, the persistence to battle the disciples, and the quick-wittedness to turn Jesus’ language about dogs back to him. Not for the first or last time, a man who thinks he knows what he is doing is made to think again by a wise woman…
I find it interesting that Matthew – the Gospel writer perhaps most keen to demonstrate to Christians of Jewish heritage that Jesus was the fulfilment of the promises in the Hebrew scriptures – includes this story, but Luke, who we often think of as speaking to a Gentile audience, does not feel it necessary to confirm to his readers that Jesus’ ministry for them too.
Perhaps Matthew feels the need to give a corrective to a readership who might instinctively exclude the Gentile? If he was writing today, what groups might he be bringing to our attention? And who would be the Canaanite woman with such prophetic insight? In 2020, Marcus Rashford has challenged any prejudices we might have that premier league footballers are just about conspicuous consumption. Who are the prophetic voices we need to hear?
Lord, We give thanks for the people with the audacity, persistence and wisdom to challenge assumptions We confess that at times we would prefer a quiet life, and for them to just leave us alone Open our eyes to the limits we attempt to put on your love, and our hearts to your children That your kingdom may come,