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Confronting an “Outsider”

The text for this week is Matthew 15: 10-28.  This is comprised of two stories.  One is about what defiles a person, things going into our mouth, or things coming out of our mouths.  The other is about the persistent faith of a Canaanite woman.  It is this second tale that I wish to focus on.

This story sees Jesus going to Tyre and Sidon, that is outside of the Jewish lands.  Here he meets a Canaanite woman. As is often the case Jesus is interacting with those whom society says He should not.  In this case it is a double no-no.  He is speaking with a woman (horrors!), as well as speaking with one from outside the Jewish community.  Someone considered “unclean”.

This woman is bold enough to ask Jesus for mercy by healing her daughter who is possessed by a demon.  It is a bit of a dichotomy.  Who is bolder?  The woman for pleading with Jesus or Jesus for “invading” this woman’s land?  Either way these two confront each other-outsider to outsider.  Jesus acknowledges her status as an outsider by stating that He was here to save the lost sheep of Israel, that is the Jewish community.  He further drives home His view of her as an outsider by saying that it is not fair to take away the children’s (Jews) food and give it to dogs (Canaanites).  More than a little insulting.

Faithful Persistence

This insult does not deter the woman, who by this time recognizes Jesus as King by kneeling before Him.  She reminds Jesus that even dogs get the crumbs from the table.  She is willing to subordinate herself as an outsider and allow the comparison with dogs to stand.  She is further willing to take “crumbs”, trusting that this will be enough to save her daughter.

Jesus appears somewhat taken aback as Verse 28 indicate, “Woman, great is your faith!”.  Great indeed!  She as an outsider recognizes Jesus as king and trusts that He can help her, even if all she gets are crumbs.  This is shocking on many levels.  First, that a woman should be so bold in this culture tells us that Jesus will meet anyone where He finds us and take us as we are.  Second, it is shocking that one so clearly considered “unclean” is possessed of such faith.  This also means that anyone can come to Jesus and witness to who He is, no matter who they are or where they come from.  This episode widens the circle of who is invited into relationship with Jesus.  In fact, it blows up the circle.  There is no end to who is invited.  Everyone is invited to trust in Jesus and His healing power, His grace and His love and acceptance are available to all who believe.

This is amazingly good news.  God’s grace upon grace is given freely to all who trust and come to Jesus.  His power is so great that even if all we get are “crumbs” that is enough.  There is no magic formula or “secret sauce” to any of this.  What this woman showed was that faith, true faith, produces perseverance.  This perseverance will carry us through periods of doubt and pain.  Perseverance in the face of all too human doubt is consistently shown in scripture as a hallmark of a faithful follower of God.  Even the “unclean” outsiders can witness to this faith.  This should give us all hope that we too can persevere, and that Jesus will hear us and respond.  This hope should give us the strength to believe, then obey.

Praise Be to God

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