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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Canaanite Woman

I was happy to see that the gospel reading for Wednesday is one of my favorites - Mt 15: 21-28 ...

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

There's an interesting commentary on this reading (and a couple of others) in Theology Today ... Spirit, Mercy, and the Other by Judith Gundry-Volf, Associate Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. She writes, in part ...

The Syrophoenician woman knocks down every obstacle in her path to making Jesus her Lord, the helper of the Gentiles. She meets his stony silence with more pleading. She drowns out the disciples' request for Jesus to send her away with her own repeated requests for Jesus to have mercy. She factually negates his exclusive mission to the Jews when she, a Gentile, calls him Lord and worships him. Finally, she cleverly turns his own maxim supporting exclusivism into an illustration of inclusivism in salvation ...

.... In the encounter with her, Jesus is faced squarely with the contradiction between fulfilling this Gentile's request and his perceived mission to Israel alone. Yet, when the powerless woman impresses on him the power of mercy that is not based on privilege through birth or deserts, Jesus' sense of his mission is expanded through this principle of mercy, the basis of her faith. In this light, he senses how appropriate it is that Gentiles should experience the fruit of his work now. So, finally, Jesus says the word-"Be it done for you as you wish"-"and her daughter was healed at once" (Matt. 15:28). Fittingly, her wish determined Jesus' action, for she rightly expected divine grace to be extended to the Gentiles.

What touches me about the story is that the woman doesn't give up, even when refused help, and that Jesus seems to change his mind about helping her. I come away (perhaps wrongly) with the idea that it's ok to be honest with Jesus/God about our desires, whatever they may be. And I come away with a Jesus/God who is changeable in response to us.


Blogger Matthew said...

Wait, Jesus learned something from a mere mortal!? Jesus changed his mind about his mission!?


6:21 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I know ... so counter-intuitive :-)

Some people don't see it that way - the Daily Reflections Page at Creighton University has a different take on it, that Jesus was always going to help her, but pretended to hesitate to teach the disciples a lesson - link

11:11 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

I've heard before the argument that when Jesus seems not to know something or hesitates helping someone, it is because he is testing or teaching his apostles.

On the other hand, it's hard to say. At the wedding in Cana, if I remember well, he said to his mother "it is not yet my time," but then performed the miracle anyway. It seems he did change his mind there. (sidenote: I love the Cana story.)

On thing is certain: the Canaanite woman does teach us about faith.

11:57 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Liam, there are some examples from the OT too of God seeming to change his mind ... makes me wonder about immutability.

I like the Cana story too - the Jesus movie that's my favorite has him dancing at the wedding - he cuts a mean rug :-)

12:03 PM  
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