August 17, 2014
“It is not fair to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus says.
This is a hard story to hear.
Some suggest that Jesus spoke with a smile on his lips.
Others remind us that the word he used for “dog”
really means “puppy,”
and so when he says that the Canaanite woman
Is a dog, he is saying something more like,
she is rather cute and cuddly….really?
I love my dog…
I find her adorable…
and she was an even more adorable puppy…
But I would still take offense if someone
suggested I was like her!
I don’t think we can soften what Jesus said.
The fact of the matter is,
Jesus moves out of his comfort zone,
out to the area of Tyre and Sidon.
They are not Jewish cities,
they are not cities of “his people,”
But cities of the Canaanites….
You remember the Canaanites.
You see, unfortunately in the book of Genesis
when God promises land to
Abraham and his descendants,
There were already people living there – the Canaanites were some of them.
By the time Jesus meets this woman,
Jews and Canaanites have not been particularly close for centuries.
We could think of the woman as a Palestinian,
and Jesus a Jew, coming to the edge of Gaza where they have this conversation.
In one of his not-so-godly moments,
the woman asks for healing for her daughter,
and Jesus hurls an insult at her.
It’s a hard story to hear.
But perhaps the purpose of this story,
the good news in this story,
Is about the woman this time,
and how she is able to change even Jesus.
The woman is not named in the gospel,
but tradition has named her Justa.
Justa has a daughter who is ill.
According to her mother she is being tormented by a demon,
which could be anything from epilepsy to mental illness.
Having exhausted the medical knowledge in her own community,
Justa hears of this wandering teacher who seems to have
miraculous healing powers.
He’s a Jew, but Justa is desperate.
Race and ethnicity have no bounds to her
when it is a matter of life for her daughter.
Justa walks outside of her own city gates,
sees Jesus and his band of disciples,
and doesn’t wait until she’s close enough to use her “inside voice…!”
She begins shouting,
“Lord help me!
Have mercy on me son of David!”
“Please lord help me!
have mercy on me if you are who your people say you are, the descendant of great king David!”
“Use that power Lord, and help me
for my daughter – my daughter – is sick.”
And Jesus ignores her.
But his disciples get annoyed with her shouting,
and they tell him to send her away.
Jesus agrees that she seems to be talking to the wrong person…
He reminds whoever is listening that his understanding of his mission
is that he is to go to those who are lost in Israel–
This woman may be lost, but she is not from Israel – she’s not his responsibility.
But Justa will not give up.
she runs to him, kneels at his feet,
And cries out one more time, “Lord help me.”
Jesus isn’t having any of it even so.
He hurls his insult at her.
But Justa still doesn’t give up.
she keeps pushing him, pushing to break through to him,
pushing for compassion,
pushing for a change in heart,
shouting out for healing.
“Yes Lord, but even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’ s table.”
And then Jesus is changed.
He looks down at this woman, (this Canaanite woman),
and for the first time he sees beyond her race, her ethnicity, or her religion.
For the first time, Jesus sees her humanity;
he sees a mother in search for healing for her child.
“Woman, great is your faith!” he says,
and Justa’s daughter is healed.
Around our world right now there are a lot of mothers like Justa,
Shouting out for healing,
Calling, “Lord have mercy.”
…and American mothers.
They are calling out on behalf of their children,
calling for healing,
calling for change.
Lord have mercy.
Another unarmed black man was shot last week in the United States.
Witnesses say he was shot after he had stopped walking and his hands were in the air.
I had never heard of Ferguson, Missouri before last week,
but now perhaps it will be a place in history.
It’s too soon to tell how this story will end,
but if the mothers have their say….
Ferguson could be the place where mainstream America confronts racism once again.
Ferguson could be the place where hearts and minds start to change.
Ferguson could be the place where healing begins…
and there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen.
Most of us here never have heard “the talk” that African American mothers (and fathers) give their children…
In the words of Austin Channing Brown, it goes something like this,
“when you go into a store,
don’t put your hands in your pockets…
If a store owner thinks you’re stealing it could cost you your life.
Don’t wear a hoodie,
keep your ID on you,
Cut your hair,
be careful of the pictures you take with friends,
Smile a lot,
turn the music down,
Be a good negro and maybe your life will be spared.”
And she continues,
“But this list can’t save us.
It never could because the culprit is something we can’t change- our bodies.”
We are seeing pictures on the news of women and men
in Ferguson who are shouting out…
and what they really are shouting for is healing, wholeness, and humanity.
They have been settling for crumbs for long enough.
Jesus looked down at the Canaanite woman, and was changed.
For the first time he saw beyond her race, her ethnicity, or her religion.
For the first time, Jesus saw her humanity;
he saw a mother in search for healing for her child.
In the midst of the events in Ferguson,
And events throughout the world, by the power of Jesus,
May we be changed…
May we recognize that we have a need for healing that is even more than physical healing,
May we shout out as fervently for healing, wholeness, and humanity for all the world as well.