NEWSFLASH! Jesus Challenged
by Bold Canaanite Woman! (Do you have the courage to do the same?)
Matthew 15: 21-28
So let's look first at the story as it is written. It opens with Jesus and some of his disciples leaving Jerusalem and walking along through the countryside in the district of Tyre and Sidon. Now this is Gentile country, a strange route for Jesus to choose, for Jews were not wanted and not welcomed there. So the group of them are foreigners passing through a hostile land.
Now, as they
go along, a woman of that country sees them from afar. And she begins
to call out to Jesus, astounding them all not just by her loud, even rude
shouting, but by her complete disregard of the critical social taboo of
the time, which says that a Gentile woman should never address a Jewish
man. And to make matters worse, she's even asking Jesus to break this
taboo as well. "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David," she
says, for "my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." And
Jesus responds to her by saying nothing and by doing nothing. Now, that's
the first surprise of this story, that in the face of this woman's need,
Jesus is totally silent. Why? I wonder. Is it out of respect for the customs
of their two peoples, respect for the enmity that divides them? Or because
he finds the woman abhorrent since she is a Gentile? It's interesting
that the disciples with him urge him to send her away. But instead he
turns to them and begins to explain to them why he has chosen not to respond
at all. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,"
he says, implying essentially, "I'm not here for the likes of her
or her daughter or her people. I'm here only for the people of Israel."
How totally uncharacteristic that sounds - Jesus refusing to respond to
the desperate request of a person in need simply because she's of another
race, another nationality! It makes you wonder what's going on.
Now something of profound significance has happened here. Two people, strangers to each other and separated by a tradition of hostility, two people have dared to engage each other in provocative, honest dialogue. And each of them - both Jesus and this nameless Canaanite woman -- each has been significantly changed and enlarged by their encounter. And herein lies the challenge that this story puts before us this morning. Do you -- and do I -- have the courage to engage with Jesus in such a way that we are changed? and that Jesus is changed too? That might sound like a scandalous question, but I think it's worth pursuing.
it there for a moment, and let me tell you a short story that might clarify
what I'm getting at. It's a story I once heard about the parish priest
in a lovely, small, stone church in the center of a quaint New England
town. He'd been rector there for many years and was beloved by the people
of both town and congregation alike. But one day he received a call to
leave that place and assume the leadership of a large, pivotal church
in a neighboring diocese. Well, he didn't know what to do. The challenge
and the possibilities of the offer were thrilling to him. But on the other
hand, he felt such deep bonds of friendship and purpose there where he
was. So he debated within himself for days and simply couldn't reach any
decision until finally, in desperation, he decided what he would do: He
would go into the church on Sunday evening after all the day's responsibilities
were cared for, and he would pray and seek God's guidance. And he would
stay there until it was absolutely clear to him where God wanted him to
be. So that's what he did. He sat in a pew and prayed all night long;
he prayed fervently, until finally it was dawn and the sun was beginning
to come up and he was exhausted. So finally in desperation he just cried
out loud, "Please, God, please, just tell me what you want me to
do." And then, into the silence, he heard a voice respond, "I
really don't give a darn what you do! Just get up off your knees and go
So I ask you then this question: Do you have this kind of relationship with Jesus? Do I? Do we dare to challenge him, to wrestle with him until each of us brings out the best in each other? Do we have the courage, the chutzpah, to forge such radical, demanding communication with Jesus for the sake of someone or something that we love? For the sake of justice ... or for the sake of compassion ... are we willing to challenge our traditional or habitual understanding of who Jesus is, and of how we are related, and how we can best communicate and care for each other? Is our relationship with the living Lord as vital and urgent and mutually demanding as was the relationship of the Canaanite woman? Or is it something that's frozen in words and rules, in habits and customs? Let's let this surprising story be a challenge to us. Let's let it revitalize our way of praying, our way of reading scripture, our way of relating to Christ. Let's let it challenge our ways of relating to others, our biases, our pride, our fear. Let's let it open our hearts and minds and take us deeper into all that it means to be a courageous, committed Christian who's not afraid to engage with Christ.
Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church.
Matthew 15: 21-28