Homily preached by Br. Simeon EFO at Winmalee on
Sunday 17th August 2014:
TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST.
Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28
Jesus cures the Canaanite woman: “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs from their tables of their masters.”
Almighty God, by whose power we are created, and by whose love we are redeemed. Guide and strengthen us for Your service, that we may live this day in love for you and one another, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The story of the Canaanite woman was very important to the Christians of the predominately Gentile Christian communities. Jesus’ healing of the daughter of the persistent Canaanite mother became a prophetic model for the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The woman is not only a Gentile but also a descendent of the Canaanites, one of Israel’s oldest and most despised enemies.
Let's take a look at some background about this woman. She’s from the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were Phoenician cities just beyond the northern border of Israel. The people worshipped Phoenician gods. They weren’t Jewish. They were pagans. By stating that she is from the region suggests that she was a rural peasant, rather than a city-dweller.
She’s a Canaanite, Matthew’s more Jewish audience are likely to be aware of the enmity between Jews and Canaanites that had existed since the time of Noah. Canaan was the son of Ham, who saw his father naked.
Noah utters this curse in Gen 9:25-27:
Noah utters this curse in Gen 9:25-27:
Cursed be Canaan;
lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.
Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem
and let Canaan be his slave.
May God make space for Japheth,
and let him live in the tents of Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.”
Even more significant than this ancient curse about being slaves to the Jews (ancestors of Shem), is the promise given to Abraham: “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (Gen 17:8). They were part of the people the Israelites were commanded by God to annihilate (Dt 20:17), which Joshua carried out partially as the people of Israel took over their land and cities.
These historical events would not make Canaanites very friendly towards Jews nor towards the Jewish God.
If these historical events do not make Canaanites very friendly towards Jews,why then would this woman approach Jesus? One suggestion is that she had nowhere else to turn. Perhaps she had heard reports about the healing miracles of Jesus. Her need was so great. Her concern for her daughter so deep, that she dared cross that rift between Jews and Canaanites. She was at the point where she had nothing to lose, and perhaps everything to gain. She comes and cries out to Jesus for help.
This woman has courage, conviction, perhaps even bravery. Despite Jesus’ rebuff of her (equating Gentiles with “dogs,” as Jews referred to anyone who was not a Jew), the woman has the presence of mind to point out that “even dogs are given crumbs and scraps from their masters’ tables.”
She displays both great faith in Jesus (addressing him by the Messianic title of “Son of David”) and great love for her daughter (subjecting herself to possible ridicule and recrimination for approaching Jesus) that should inspire both Jew and Gentile -- and Christian.
Jesus does not see in the Canaanite woman an old enemy; he sees, in her great compassion and love for her sick daughter, a loving mother; he sees, in her courage to come forward in the face of imminent rejection and denunciation, a woman of great faith. The Lord calls every person who possesses such compassion and love, regardless of nationality or heritage or stereotype or label.
The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel seeks what we all seek: to be acknowledged as good, to be respected as a child of God, to be welcomed as a sister and brother to all.
In honouring the goodness and love of the Canaanite mother (who, as a Canaanite, is despised by Jesus’ hearers), Jesus opens up our perspectives and illuminates our vision, enabling us to see one another as God sees us.
Most of us would consider ourselves fair-minded and unbiased, neither bigots nor racists; but if we're honest, we would probably recognise times we have treated people as if they were “a little less human” because they did not possess some quality or ingredient we consider imperative.
We underestimate people because they are somehow different; we treat them as inferiors because they don't quite measure up to what we think they should or should not be. God does not measure his people by our standards but welcomes all who do what is “right” and “just.”