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Friday, November 15, 2013
Today’s Reading | Matthew 15:21–28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (NRSV)
This woman of great faith is described as a Canaanite, a people who were one of ancient Israel’s fiercest opponents and someone who would have been roughly equivalent with the Samaritans in the eyes of the Jewish people. Jesus’ response that he was sent only to the house of Israel is actually in keeping with the early stages of the Gospel of Matthew (this mission is expanded in Jesus’ charge to the disciples at the conclusion of the Gospel), but his comparison of the Canaanites to dogs is quite troubling for us as external observers.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” the old English proverb goes. “Appearances can be deceiving.” Ancient Israelites would likely have had a visceral reaction to a Canaanite identity similar to the one that Jesus offers, but the text pulls the rug out from under that viewpoint. Just as the centurion’s servant was healed earlier in Matthew, the worldwide vision of God’s plan is already cracking through the cultural barriers and prejudices present in the world.
Jesus’ metaphor may have been harsh, but his response is not: our faith will demand that we overcome all boundaries and misconceptions we have about others. We are each products of the world we live in—shaped by culture and circumstance—but this remarkable story reminds us that we are each called to look beyond that toward something greater.
Dear Lord, help to open my eyes that I might see beyond the boundaries that have been set in front of me and the boundaries that I myself have placed. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Minister for Children and Families
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