In order to make sense of the story I just read, you need to have a bit of background. Jesus is taking some time away; he is tired from the demands being made upon him. He was in Tyre, which was an ancient seaport of Phoenicia: one of the great cities of antiquity, famous of its navigators and traders. It’s foreign territory, land of the Gentiles. But even there, word about him had preceded him, and a woman comes to him, seeking healing for her daughter.
You might wonder how the woman gained access to him, but homes in that day were not like our homes. Home had courtyards, which were public, which is where this encounter probably took place. Picture it… a hot dusty courtyard… Jesus is tired… he has been preaching, teaching and healing all over the place… He is seeking refuge… and into his refuge comes a woman, a gentile woman.
In Matthew’s version of this story, his disciples try to keep the woman away from him, in fact, entreating him by saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Sounds like she was the kind of woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus’ interaction with her is unlike what we expect. Jesus is usually breaking down the barriers that separate people from one another, going beyond the norms and expectations of his day. Breaking the bonds of religious law in order to fulfill the spirit of the law.
But this time we hear Jesus telling this woman, this woman that come to ask for healing for her daughter, that he came to the Children of Israel, not for others. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Scholars and theologians debate whether he actually called the woman a dog, whether or not he was joking, whether or not he was making a point to the disciples. Speaking like that does really match with our idea and image of Jesus does it? But you know, I can picture him saying that… he’s exhausted… he has understood his mission and ministry to be to the people of Israel… and he just wants some peace. But this unnamed woman… this determined woman… this woman with a sick daughter, will not give up. She challenges him to see his mission and ministry as wider than that. With her words, Jesus realizes that indeed… his mission is more than he originally thought… it is to all people. And he responds, with his more characteristic compassion, and tells her to go home, that her daughter has been healed.
So what’s the connection to today? Who are the people, or groups of people, who agitate/demand healing and fair treatment?
1. Because it’s Pride Week in Halifax, the first group of people I thought of was gay people:
a. They didn’t get fair treatment because we were benevolent… they got fair treatment because they challenged us to see their humanity.
b. On a side note, I am very proud to be the minister in a church where the board approved putting a rainbow on our sign this week.
2. Aboriginal people:
a. I preached a few weeks ago about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the work of healing that has to be done.
b. Work that we wouldn’t have undertaken without their agitation.
c. As you know, one of the goals of the residential schools was to take the Indian out of the Indian. In some respects that has happened… they have learned our ways… the First Nations people are using our own laws to hold us to account.
3. People of African ancestry
a. We don’t have to very far in this city to remember the wiping out of Africville. How long before the city apologized? Decades.
b. Did you know that garbage dumps are placed disproportionately near black communities?
4. People of lower socio-economic means.
a. schools not upgraded
b. People with lower incomes tend to vote less… and so those voices are not heard in the same numbers as those with greater means.
5. Further into the past, it was women who had to agitate for the right to vote.
a. They weren’t given it without sacrifice by others.
Imagine yourself in that story. Who are you? Are you Jesus?
a. Unaware that what you offer is for all not just for some?
b. Are you tired from the demands of the world and can’t take one more request for help?
c. Are you just trying to lay your burdens down for a few days in order to come back to them refreshed?
Are you one of the disciples?
a. Trying to keep outsiders from having access to Jesus?
b. Are you trying to protect him from too many demands?
c. Are you selfish and want to keep his energy for yourself and your friends?
Are you the woman?
a. Stubbornly insisting that you are deserving of healing and wholeness for your family?
b. Will you do anything to heal your daughter?
I suspect we are all those people at one time or another.
I know that there are times, when I have had a run of funerals or crises in ministry, when the phone rings late in the evening or very early morning, that I just want to hide my head. I know that there have been times when I have been annoying in seeking justice, either for myself or for others. And I know there have been times when I am one of the disciples, a gatekeeper, trying to keep someone from experiencing Jesus.
The good news of this story is that, like Jesus, we can change our minds and beliefs about something. We do not need to be held back by how we were raised or how we were educated. We can listen, even when it is challenging, we can listen and like Jesus, see the human person in front of us.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Catherine MacDonald 2015