Do you know if you are an introvert or an extravert? The primary different between those two types of people is where they get their energy. Extraverts get energy from being around people and feel drained by themselves. Introverts feel drained by being around people for too long and recharge by being alone. It has nothing to do with being shy or having social anxiety, it is simply two different ways of interacting in the world. Society has valued the extravert, so many of us introverts have learned how to be extraverted quite successfully. But ask us to do it too long and we are likely to wind up stressed, anxious and cranky. Likewise for an extravert, give them the opportunity for a silent retreat and they are likely to run in the other direction. But give them an opportunity to go to a conference and engage with people all day, they are there in a heartbeat, they are the ones heading off to the pub after the scheduled events are done for the day!
We have no idea if Jesus was an introvert or extravert, although we do know that he regularly took time away from the demands of his outward life to be with God, but extraverts do that too. In this reading from gospel according to the writer of Matthew, Jesus’ response to a woman seeking help for her daughter seems out of character, let’s listen as the story unfolds in the 15th chapter:
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 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.” 23 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.” 24 Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In order to make sense of the story you just heard, 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 Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said to her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
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?
- People of African ancestry
- We heard Nellie speak of her experiences growing up a few weeks ago. We don’t have to very far in this city to remember the wiping out of Africville. How long before the city apologized? Decades.
- Did you know that garbage dumps are placed disproportionately near black communities?
- Indigenous People
- The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unfolding oh so slowly… work that we wouldn’t have undertaken without agitation from Indigenous people.
- 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.
- People of lower socio-economic means.
- Schools not upgraded.
- People with lower incomes tend to vote less… and so those voices are not heard in the same numbers as those with greater means.
- And when they do speak out, I’m not sure they are listened to in the same way.
- Further into the past, it was women who had to agitate for the right to vote.
- They weren’t given it without sacrifice by others.
Those are just a few things off the top of my head. Imagine yourself in that story. Who are you? Are you Jesus? Are you one of the disciples? Are you the woman?
I suspect we are all those people at one time or another, I certainly have been. 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. The good news of this story is that, like Jesus, we can stop, really listen to the person in front of us and be transformed by them.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Matthew 15: 21-28
March 20, 2022 – SMUC
Photo is the cover of the Annual Meeting of the Assembly of Atlantic Canada Baptists the year I was invited as President of Maritime Conference.