Weekly Greetings from Rev. Sellars

There’s no doubt about it! This week’s story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is one of the most painful in Scripture. Every time I read this story, I’m shocked that Jesus would speak so harshly to the Gentile woman, ignoring her plea to heal her daughter who was tormented by a demon. After constantly encouraging his disciples to open their hearts and expand their faith, he now seems to be giving in to their pressure to send her away. What gives?

Commentators have long tried to explain Jesus’ rudeness to the woman. Some say he was testing her to see if she could overcome the obstacles to faith, so Jesus could reward her. Others think Matthew is telling a parable to see how we, his readers, will respond. My suggestion is that we read the story from the perspective of the Canaanite woman and consider what we would say to Jesus if we were down and out and had a daughter in such a predicament. We have a better chance of comprehending the story if we take Jesus’ words seriously instead of trying to explain them away. This story has much to teach us about living our faith.

MATTHEW 15: 21-28
“Border Crossings”

Even though Jesus’ words to the Canaanite woman are hurtful and demeaning, they do express Israel’s expectations of their Messiah. Jesus’ mission was “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). Matthew’s first readers were predominately Jewish Christians, and they would have recognized the question their church was wrestling with—whether or not to receive Gentiles into their fellowship. It seems that Jesus was wrestling with the issue himself.

The heart of the story, I believe, is that the Canaanite woman understood the foundation of God’s love and care for all creation, and was willing to stand her ground and fight for inclusion. “Yes, Lord,” she responds, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table” (15:27). Without denying her status as an outsider, she claimed God’s inclusive love, which crosses borders of geography and religion in order to receive all people. She fought for her daughter’s right to come to God in mercy, and for her great faith, Jesus healed her daughter.

Those “crumbs under the master’s table” remind me of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 in the previous chapter. The disciples gathered up an abundance of bread and fish remaining from God’s expression of love for all the people. There is plenty of God’s love remaining to feed all people who seek God’s salvation. This passage challenges us to quit being so stingy with God’s love and share our joy and community with all who seek it.

This week’s story gives me confidence and hope as I think of how we can respond to the violence and hatred we saw at the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the Canaanite woman who spoke up and claimed God’s love for her daughter, we too can speak up whenever we hear disparaging remarks directed at people of another nationality, gender, or religion. We can resist the prejudices we meet by proclaiming God’s love and care for all people.

Then we can cross borders of hatred and get to know someone who is different from us. We can be patient to hear their concerns and offer our help, in action and in prayer. I invite you to pray specifically for God’s peace and mercy to watch over Hot Springs tomorrow as demonstrations take place in Arlington Park. Pray that our police officers and other first responders will remain safe and alert as they protect our citizens and guard our freedoms. May God’s love guide the thoughts and actions of all involved, and may peace begin with each of us.