Have you ever been insulted by a powerful religious leader? Has your child been denied life-saving healthcare because of gender, ethnicity, or faith? If you have ever been reduced to begging for help, or been sent away by people who couldn’t be bothered to give it, you may identify with the Canaanite woman. She shouts after Jesus, imploring him for mercy on behalf of her suffering daughter. An insurmountable barrier built of history and mistrust separates the desperate mother from the one she calls “Lord, Son of David.” By conventional standards, the woman is unclean and untouchable. Her child is downright deadly.

Think of your gravest apprehension—the lethal contagion, the threat you pray never draws near to you or your loved ones. Now you may understand the dread and revulsion Jesus’ disciples feel when the Canaanite woman won’t stop shouting after him. Patriarchal tribalism has taught them to fear and revile this “other” and the evil they believe her sick daughter embodies. To come closer to her would be to kiss death. Jesus’ initial silence suggests he’s assessing the risk. His metaphor of food unfit for dogs conveys, if not outright contempt for a neighbor in need, then tradition-bound prejudice against “her kind.” Is this the Jesus we know and love?

This is Jesus, human and filtered through Matthew’s literary lens. But this is not ultimately a story of healthcare denied, nor of the divide between chosen children and filthy animals. The Canaanite woman’s shout penetrates the barricade of ethnic exclusivism. Her chutzpah and rationality change Jesus’ mind. He no longer treats her as an impure nuisance but as a human being of dignity and deep faith. Through Jesus’ transformed perception of the woman, mercy extends to her daughter and heals her. Thanks to her, all “outsiders” can now come closer to God and to those who once sent them away.

Thank you, Jesus, for coming close to us and making us whole. Amen.

Pray the Scriptures Using Audio Lectio
Read Matthew 15:10-28

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Lectionary Week
August 10–16, 2020
Scripture Overview

Joseph has risen to a high position in Egypt, and now his brothers come searching for food in a time of famine. He reveals his true identity and reinterprets their evil intentions as being part of God’s plan. Sometimes we too are granted perspective to see God’s working in difficult times. The psalmist rejoices when God’s people are living in unity, as Joseph and his brothers were after their reunion. In Romans, Paul declares that his people are not rejected by the merciful God, for God’s promises are unchanging. In Matthew, Jesus teaches that God looks on the inside, not the outside. Thus, what you take into your body is less important than what comes from your heart, and God does not favor one ethnic group over another.

Questions and Suggestions for Reflection

Read Genesis 45:1-15. When have you experienced God’s grace in forgiving or being forgiven? How were those needing forgiveness still held responsible for their actions?
Read Psalm 133. How has God called you to live in unity with those different from you? How do you receive God’s abundant blessing through such unity?
Read Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32. How does the eternal mercy of God’s gifts and callings sustain you when it seems like God has rejected God’s people?
Read Matthew 15:10-28. When have you, like the Canaanite woman, felt like you had to insist that Jesus come closer? How did your faith change or grow from this experience?

Respond by posting a prayer.

I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.” 

View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.