Let us look at the setting for today’s Gospel:
Tyre and Sidon were cities in Canaan on the coast of the Mediterranean NW of Galilee.
The Canaanite, the foreigner, was a woman and a foreigner.
The Canaanites, disposed of their land by the Israelites, were bitter enemies. The woman crossed ethnic boundaries to seek the same healing Jesus had given to women in his own country. Jesus ignored her. The disciples wanted to be rid of this bothersome woman. She refuses to be put off. She demands her place at the table.
Jesus finally realizes that his mission is inclusive. The Canaanites are not dogs. They too are the children of Abba God. Remember Jesus, as man, grew in wisdom and knowledge and he had to come to an understanding that his mission was to all people and not just Israel.
There are many lessons here.
She was a woman, a second class citizen in her culture and in Jesus’ culture. She had a second strike against her—she was a foreigner. She is the first woman to speak in Matthew’s Gospel.
This is a story about persistent faith, inclusion, and healing.
The woman had persistent faith. Demon possession is often a sign of the Evil One’s resistance to God’s kin-dom. She stayed with Jesus who began by ignoring her. The woman exhibits what we today call expectant faith. She parried his every rebuff. She approached Jesus and expected him to cure her daughter. She begged and implored him until he recognized her healed her daughter.
Sickness can come from the sins of the fathers and the mothers as we are relearning in healing ministry—generational patterns can produce illness in succeeding generations—for example, patterns of physical and emotional abuse seem to perpetuate themselves from generation to generation. Illness can also come from oppressive political and social structures. Jesus often heals to show that he overcomes the power of the oppressive domination of the Romans and their priestly collaborators. He came to liberate people from oppression and its side effects such as illness.
In today’s world, we could think of Jesus going from Israel into Gaza, which was originally in Canaan, and meeting this woman. He would probably meet a Muslim woman seeking healing for illness the demon oppression has visited upon her daughter.
Jesus referred to her people as “dogs.” He characterized them. This story shows Jesus and Matthew’s early Jesus community coming to an understanding that Abba God was sending him and them to all people. All people, even this pesky persistent foreign woman, even this “dog,” are welcome at God’s banquet table. Lessons for us:
We live in the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus who wants to heal us, who wants to make us whole. Jesus wants us to have life and everything we need. We need to develop persistent faith. We need to show up expecting healing. God always shows up when we place ourselves in God’s loving presence.
A word about healing ministry—in the early church, Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12:9 that some have the gift, the charism, of healing. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church restricted healing to the clergy in what came to be called Extreme Unction. Today the people of God still have the charism of healing and we can and indeed should pray over one another and invoke God’s healing power.
Second, like, Jesus, we are to be inclusive and welcome all to the table. We have to come to wisdom and stop categorizing people on the basis of race, sex, class, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and the like. Every person is created and loved by God as they are. Each human person is precious in the eyes of God.
Where do we label and categorize people and thus treat them like “dogs?” We need to get rid of all labels that make people something less than what they are—children of the one Creator. We must also welcome immigrants, the foreigners among us.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.