We put limits and boundaries in all of the roles that we as humans occupy. None of us can be everything to all people. In Matthew 15:21-28, we notice Jesus doing just that. He has a clear sense of what his purpose is and what it is not: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of
’. This sort of role clarity
we are surprised at in Jesus because we see him as our universal saviour. But
at this point in our history and story Jesus is also a human prophet, and it is
only progressively that it is revealed to us (and perhaps even to Jesus
himself) that Jesus is to be so much more than a first century Jewish prophet. Israel
Within this context then Jesus’ refusal to respond to the woman’s request, makes limited historical sense. She is an outsider, a nameless non-Jewish woman. Jesus has no relationship to her and feels no sense of duty towards her.
What is fascinating about this passage then is how this woman refuses to be dismissed and ignored by Jesus. Even though she knows that in the Jewish sense of order and hierarchy she is a ritually unclean-impure woman –- indeed Jesus compares her kind to dogs - she persists. She will not let Jesus push her aside, she will be heard, and she will make her plea.
Yet, we are shown exactly what she has to battle against:
o Jesus did not answer her.
o The disciples urged him – send her away.
She kneels down before him saying: ‘Lord, help me’.
She is humiliated, she is begging, she is pleading, she is being shooed away like a dog, and she is being rejected and pushed aside. Yet, she kneels before Jesus. She makes herself totally vulnerable. She has no pride. She is disarmed.
‘Lord, help me’.
With this action she at least gets a response from Jesus, she has his attention. But his response is to defend his position: ‘I cannot give to you what is meant for the children’. It is not until she replies: ‘Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’, that Jesus is himself wrong footed. Her persistent and courageous faith, together with her humility is rewarded – her daughter is healed.
This unnamed Canaanite woman has shown audacity - to desire the healing that comes from God and from the Jewish faith of which she is not a part. On the other level she has been totally humble, she has not fought against her cultural position, she has simply appealed to Jesus’ mercy in reflecting that, even the smallest amount of what is good and holy can heal even the least and unworthiest of people. It is that extraordinary faith in the goodness of what Jesus represents that compels Jesus to give where he had not planned or even considered giving. In hope and faith she dared to ask for help where she knew it would not be easily forthcoming.
I just want us to reflect on the ways that we approach God as we think about this woman’s approach to Jesus.
What she reveals to us is that we can draw and invite God into our lives by our approach; that persistence in prayer will be rewarded. She says to us: put your hope in God and ask for what you need. Go out of your way to knock on God’s door, to keep asking, especially when things get really bad for you or for people that you love. Then is the time to sit before God and beg him, plead with him. The things that bring us low so low that we put aside our pride are the very things that will, if we persevere, let God heal us, renew us and save us.
What is it in our lives that might bring us on our knees, imploring God for help? Those moments when we have to approach God out of desperation or need are moments of opportunity – for they enable us to cross the boundaries that usually separate God from humanity. And it is the crossing of boundaries that forms the basis of our living relationship with God. When we have to change in order to reach God, then God will change in order to reach us.