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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, August 18, 2017

Today’s Scripture 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)

Although we profess a God who is immutable and unchanging, Jesus certainly seems to reverse himself in this story. As an amateur theologian, I could come up with an academic explanation of how this waffling Messiah still manifests divine immutability, but I’ll bracket that for now.

When initially confronted with this woman, who’s bold enough to defy cultural and religious norms for the sake of her daughter, Jesus doesn’t seem all that sympathetic. First he gives her the silent treatment. Then he tells her that he won’t heal her daughter because she’s a polytheistic Canaanite and not a Jew. Then he goes on to call her a dog, a term of derision for Gentiles. After she cleverly uses his words to make a point about compassion, he commends her faith and heals her daughter. Total reversal.

It seems like Jesus was struggling with who he thought he was in light of who the present moment was calling him to be. As a faithful Jew, he knew the boundaries within which he was supposed to live, but when faced with this raw and honest human need, he had to act. Who he was as love incarnate expanded the boundaries. He was doing “theological reflection,” holding the experience of the day in the light of God’s tender gaze, and seeing what that meant for the next day (or hour or minute). And he did it right there in front of everyone.

What a gift to all of us who have to do the same thing.

Jesus, help us to be like you. Let us see what and who is in front of us and always respond in love. Give us the great faith of this nameless Canaanite woman. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning

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