a sermon, based on Matthew 15.10-28, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 20, 2017
I am a man. Though, as an African American intimately, painfully familiar with the societal deprivations experienced by people of color, both in human chronicles and in my own history, I, however sensitive and sympathetic I may and can be, cannot know firsthand the strivings and sufferings of our sisters of our human family who, from time immemorial unto this day, have had their dreams deferred and denied.
For women, in every arena or field of endeavor – athletics and the sciences, politics and the military, commerce and the church, medicine and the law, the entertainment and service industries – patriarchal hegemonies remain; pay equity still an ideal and glass ceilings still firmly in place, some hardly clear, but rather cloudy, opaque, leaving the women below unable to behold as possibilities the riches of opportunities long relished as realities by the men above.
This comes to my mind and heart, my soul and spirit as I reflect on the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.
Jesus enters the district of Tyre and Sidon. Her territory. And she, with the urgency of gravest necessity, greets him with a shout, “Lord, Son of David!”
This non-Jewish woman recognizes who Jesus is, demonstrating a greater awareness of his messianic identity than his disciples have shown so far…
Even more, she, for the sake of her love for her daughter, captive in the thrall of demonic-possession, dares beg the mercy of this Jewish messiah; her very request expressing her belief that he can do something and hoping he will…
Still more, she, as a non-Jew and a woman, in the audacity of her appeal has stepped over, kicked over the even then ancient barriers of race and gender, status and authority that bar her from receiving any help.
Jesus, a Jewish man and rabbi, observing those time-honored boundaries, says nothing, need say nothing. His disciples, men, no matter their societal stations – most as fishermen, one a hated tax collector, another a religious zealot – surely standing higher than she, beg Jesus to “send her away.” Jesus answers, and it’s not clear he is speaking to her, sharing only his ultra-exclusionary understanding that his mission and ministry are intended only for Israel.
She persists, adding to her words of respect, “Lord” and “Son of David” a universally understood deed of deference, kneeling at Jesus’ feet; again asking, begging, “Lord, help me.”
Jesus responds with a demeaning word of cultural difference and distance, likening the woman and her daughter to dogs hungering underfoot at the table.
She persists, voicing her belief, her confidence that even a crumb of the mercy of Jesus can conquer the demon laying claim to her daughter’s soul.
Jesus, praising her faith, finally grants her desire.
This encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a bold witness to the persistent power of faith, especially in response to the rejections of silence and dismissal of the status quo.
I also see that even Jesus, who taught that what is internal, not external, bears the fruit of wickedness, had to be shown how not to fall prey to his perspectives, his prejudices about the outward features of culture and class, race and gender. Bless you, Jesus, for having the humility to listen and learn.
May all who follow Jesus, in every arena and field of endeavor, athletics and the sciences, politics and the military, commerce and the church, medicine and the law, the entertainment and service industries, no longer look on “the other” as “other” and, thus, no longer offer crumbs of mercy, if even that, but rather invite all to have a chosen seat at the table.
Illustration: Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619)