Our reading this morning is one that I have grown to appreciate more and more as the years go by, but reading it is still like getting poked in the eye. The eye poke is Jesus responding to someone in need in a way that I don’t think Jesus should be responding to someone in need. He does not simply say no. He does not runaway. He does not climb in a boat and sail to the other side of the lake. He basically tells this woman that she is a dog. Biblical scholars have spent 2000 years trying to help Jesus walk that back or least soften it up a bit. But there it is. You heard him. What he has is for the children and not for the Dogs.
Jesus saying stuff like this does not fit the picture of who I think Jesus is. So every time, I read this story I am challenged. I am challenge to think about Jesus. What is going on? Is this just a bad day for him? What is he thinking? I get challenge to read the story again and again, more carefully, more thoughtfully, and more prayerfully. It is a spiritually disruptive story for me and that is good thing in the same way that a plow is a good thing for a field in the spring time. Turning over old ideas and concepts lets us see differently, sometimes in new ways, sometimes in ways we never imagined.
As I was reading the story this week, I began to think of it as a story more about this woman than about Jesus. What if Jesus is not the central figure, what if she is? That is different, right? If you are reading a story and Jesus is in the story, then it is a story about Jesus right? Because he is Jesus, he sucks a lot of air out of the room.
But this story is different. No one, man or woman, will ever stand up to Jesus the way this woman does. For starters, she should not even be speaking to a man who is not her husband in public, but she does. When Jesus rebukes her request, as any self-respecting, God-Fearing teacher of the faith would do, she should meekly and humbly apologize for speaking, remember her place in society and sulk away, she does not. She stands up straight and she speaks clearly making her claim on Jesus.
But what we have to work not miss with our 21st century eyes and ears is that she should not have been in this space at all. Women don’t talk to men in public. Certainly, when whatever request they have made is denied, they do not challenge the decision. Nevertheless, she persists. She is powerless, yet she refuses to behave that way. She has no recourse, but she refuses to let the matter drop.
There is a moment in this story where she becomes every mother, every parent who has ever had a sick child. Her desperation echoes through the centuries from lips of mothers and fathers who have known that if something is not done a beloved child will die. She is a mother. She is a women. She is also ethnically, racially and religiously different, other than Jesus and his disciples. She is a crowded intersection of inferiority. Jesus has other matters on his mind.
On the one hand, our liberated ears cannot fathom Jesus’ dismissive response to this women nor a culture that would find such a response appropriate. On the other hand, it is really not hard at all to see the residue of that sort of attitude in our culture. The woman in our text is not all that different from Rosa Parks and others in the Civil Rights Movement— women and men who refused to be dismissed, who refused to go to the back of the bus, to leave the lunch counter, who refused to let justice pass them by yet again.
I suspect that at some time in her life the woman in our story this morning knew the same powerlessness that Ariana Grande experienced when she finished singing at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. The pastor who was presiding at the service and put his arm around her back, under arm and did not stop until his hand was rest clearly, if awkwardly on her breast. She tried to pull away. He pulled her closer. This happens in front of television cameras for the world to see, but the enlightened New York Times headline refers to the pastor who was accused of groping, not the pastor who groped. His apology was a non-apology, and I quote, “”It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast. … I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her,” Ellis said. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.” Violation, dismissal, (shrug) “What’s the big deal?” is as hard-wired into our culture as it ever was in 1st century Palestine.
In a culture were all the rules that governed her life and her body were made by men, the woman in our story persists. She might have gotten a better initial reaction from Jesus if she had gone the through the proper channels. Perhaps if she had asked her husband or her father to intervene on her behalf she would not have caused such a stir. But there is no time for that, a life is hanging in the balance. She kneels and she begs because she has no alternative.
She speaks, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
The Bible tells that because she said this Jesus announced that the demon had left her daughter.
What happens to Jesus in that moment? Why does he change his mind? What else changes? I don’t know but I am guessing Jesus changed in that moment at least a little, if not a lot.
His world just got bigger and he sees it differently. The scope of what God is doing in the world just got bigger. What God is doing in and through Jesus expands in a global way.
The people of God have been enlarged.
God is more.
In this story, Jesus teaches us one of the most powerful spiritual truths in scripture, we can change. In just a few sentences he models that transformation for us. We do not have to be what we have always been. We too can change. That is the hope of the Gospel.
Those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree.
Those whose actions please us and those whose actions horrify us.
Those that agree with us and those who have consigned us to the fires of hell.
None of us are destined to remain as we are. Jesus shows us the way and calls us to it.
We do not answer the call to love as Jesus loved because we expect it to produce a particular outcome, that is not the way love functions. Yet, that kind of love can transform lives. So we continue to love in all the ways we can at all the times we can, not because of the changes that may or may not result out there, but because of the change that is occurring in here. So that we, like Jesus, can come to see that the bread of life that God offers to us not for some of us, but for all of us. And all of us are worthy of it. It tastes better when we share it. It satisfies us best when we know all have had enough.