ISAIAH 56:1, 6-7. ROMANS 11:13-15, 29-32. MATTHEW 15:21-28
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus leaves Palestine and withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory. A Canaanite woman begins to follow him, calling out over and over again, “Have pity on me Lord, Son of David. My daughter is tormented by a demon.” It’s noteworthy that this
pagan woman is addressing him as the Messiah, the Son of David!
He ignores her, but she’s persistent! When the disciples ask Jesus to send her away he reminds them that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Having said that, he should have sent her away, but he didn’t. Instead, he
tells her that, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” This sounds so unlike Jesus to us. But the word Jesus uses for dogs is playful, not insulting. A better translation would be doggies, tiny lap dogs!
The woman picks up on his ironic joke. “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall form the table of their masters.” Impressed by the depth of her faith, he instantly cures her daughter.
In this dark time of national populism when even Christians silently tolerate our government locking up brown children in cages because “they’re not one of us,” this passage is particularly poignant.
In the society Jesus lived in, the world was clearly divided, “them and us.” This divide was dictated and enforced by the religious leadership. It’s clear that Jesus didn’t follow these populist traditions so engrained in his society. He traveled outside of Palestine, cured many Gentiles and even praised the depth of their faith as witnessed in the passage today. He regularly suffered attacks from the religious right for his position. Eventually, they had him executed.
Today, let’s think about the “them and us” phenomenon tragically deteriorating the ideals on which our country was founded. This scene with Jesus and the Canaanite woman compels each of us to question to what extent I might have bought into the them-and-us dynamic? What must I do to permit Jesus to begin healing this situation? How can I be part of the remedy?
Lord Jesus, Son of David, you healed the Roman Centurion’s slave, the Samaritan leper, the Gerasene demonic. You offered eternal life to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. I beg you to heal my heart and the heart of my country. Cleanse the stains of racism and privilege from my mind and heart and soul. Give me the strength to suffer as you suffered when you reached out to the foreigner and the outcast. Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.