Matthew 15(10-20), 21-28
I always find it difficult to make sense of this story of the Canaanite woman.
This time I’ve tried to look at what’s going on behind the events themselves to see if there’s anything we can recognise in our own lives and, if so, if we can learn anything for ourselves from this story.
Before the story begins we see Jesus in dispute with Pharisees over laws and traditions relating to purification and defilement. He’s offended and angered them and it’s becoming clear that his message is not being heard by the people who ought to be able to understand it. Perhaps it’s time for Jesus to re-think the way he’s living out his calling.
At times in our lives we too need to re-think the way we are living and aspects of our faith or the ways we relate to others.
Jesus, perhaps in the process of this re-thinking, encounters the Canaanite woman who is crying out for his attention and help for her daughter. He has to make a decision about what to do. He seems to ignore her but maybe he is giving himself time to make that decision.
In our lives, too, we come to what we might think of as crunch times – the times when it’s no longer possible to do nothing or to delay making a decision.
We don’t know the tone of Jesus’ voice when he responds to the disciples urging him to send the woman away. Perhaps it’s more anguished and torn than angry or dismissive: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.
And it gets more tortured when he says to the woman “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” – I can’t help you although I want to.
In the times when we’re engaged in this sort of struggle we too may well have an internal argument with ourselves. “I’ve always believed in …. I can’t let go of that”; “I don’t want to take the risk of trusting someone, I’ve been hurt too much”; “I don’t want to change but I don’t want to go on as I am”. And so the debate goes on.
Jesus seems to be convinced that his instinct is right when the woman responds with such courage and humour – or is it anger? “yes you feed the children but there’s more than enough for the dogs as well”. The inner tension seems to be released and Jesus is instantly able to offer her the reassurance and healing that she has begged for.
We too may become convinced, over a period of time or suddenly, by conversations with other people, by reflection on something we hear or see. The ways we come to make big decisions are as varied as the questions we’re asking.
So if we recognise some of the processes that are going on in this story, what can we learn from it.
Being human involves growth and change: we have to grow, change and adapt to the different situations we face and the different roads we travel on. Ways of living and thinking that were right at the beginning become inadequate along the way and we have to change to keep going forward.
But it can be an uncomfortable and painful process. In the transition period we have to hold tensions of paradox and contradiction between the old and the new. We can be faced with the unfamiliar and scary when we’d rather stay with the familiar and safe. Or we may be called to stay in our present situation but to view it and live it in a different way.
If the call to change and growth is of God it will be persistent; it won’t be possible to ignore it or deny it – it will keep prodding us into action.
If the call is of God then:
it will make us more compassionate,
more loving and more open to others.
It will open up new and exciting possibilities for us.
It will open up new and exciting possibilities for others.
Growth and change that is of God will always lead to us becoming the people God means us to be.