Worship At Home
Small Group Reflection of 08-16-20
In these days of social distancing we have endeavored to provide a Corpus Christi online worship experience. The Worship At Home web page has been our attempt to provide that. One of the ways our community has used this resource has been to gather virtually in real time using video conferencing software like FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, and Zoom. In an effort to hold onto our deep liturgical roots, one virtual group has gone to the point of having rotating presiders, lectors, and even homilists. The reflections provided by the members of this group have often been very inspiring. In an effort to share these reflections with the larger community several of them have been collected and published here on the CC website.
Reflection from 08-16-20, provided by Stephanie Spandl, SSND.
The Canaanite Woman
Reflection for Corpus Christi Home Church 8/16/2020
This gospel reading is one of my favorites, one I have pondered and prayed with for many years. As Esther mentioned in our post-service conversation a couple weeks ago, the beauty of scripture is that it is always new, can always speaks to us even though we have heard the stories many times. It meets us where we are at in this moment in time, the particular realities of our life right now. We might as Linc shared in his reflection recently, hear a part of the story we’ve never noticed before or we might hear something differently due to the current circumstances in our lives. And this certainly would be one of those stories that lends itself well to the Jesuit imaginative prayer we heard about last week from Tom, a story where we might find ourselves inhabiting different characters of the story at different times in our lives, gaining new insight.
There is so much depth and so many aspects to this reading that it was hard for me to narrow it down. There’s much that could be said about the context of the times, about the form and placement of this story in the gospel of Matthew, how it speaks to the role of women and the inclusion of Gentiles in the role of the early Christian community, but for today, I will focus on the main characters and how this scripture speaks deeply to our current time, to our reality of heightened awareness of racial injustice and of the challenges of COVID and isolation and separation.
Every time I read this scripture, I find myself wondering about this vulnerable, yet bold astute woman and about this rejecting Jesus, so different from the deeply compassionate Jesus I have known through Scripture and in my own life. How is it that Jesus at first refuses to heal the woman’s daughter? What gives the woman the strength to persist and overcome Jesus’ resistance with a surprising combination of both great humility and quick wit? I would have likely been left speechless at his response. What meaning might this story have held for Matthew’s community and what meaning might it hold for us today as we continue to struggle with issues of racism, gender, sexuality and many other forms of inclusion/exclusion? To what might it challenge readers from privileged groups as oppressed groups, like the woman, find their voices in our faith communities and our world? Just what are we to do with this text in which Jesus is portrayed as the one with societal and religious power and uses it to exclude?
First the Canaanite woman—She inspires me! Personally, I have always identified more with the Hemorrhaging woman – let me not make a scene, not bother or inconvenience, let me just quietly come up behind and touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak and quietly go on my way, though we know in the end, she was called out and didn’t get away with anonymity. People tell me that I am articulate and appear confident, but inside I can be deeply insecure and spend too much energy trying to please others, seeking acceptance. So perhaps in some way I’m afraid of exactly what happened to the Canaanite woman: afraid that perhaps I don’t deserve healing, that I’m too unimportant to be attended to, that I will be rejected in some way by others and even by God.
Yet even as I identify with the Hemorrhaging woman and love her creativity and expression of faith, the Canaanite woman amazes, delights and challenges me – her boldness, her persistence, her quick-wittedness, her willingness to challenge even Jesus for the love of her daughter and yet at the same time her deep humility. She knows she is on the outside – as a Canaanite/pagan, as a woman with apparently no male to advocate on her behalf as would have been the custom, as a woman with a possessed, disabled daughter. Given the norms of the time, she is isolated, separated from, rejected by the community around her. Yet, for the love of her daughter, she approaches Jesus boldly and with persistence. Jesus and the disciples try ignoring her. Not even speaking directly to her but within her hearing, Jesus tells his disciples that he’s sent only the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
If it were me, at that point, I would have likely left the scene. Why subject myself to further humiliation? But she persists! Even after Jesus clearly rejects her, calling her a dog and saying the food is only for the children, she does not waver. She does not slink away in shame nor does she fight back with indignation. She continues to recognize Jesus for who he is, Lord and Son of David, when his own people refuse to recognize him, and amazingly, with deep humility, she accepts Jesus’ worldview, his designation of her as a dog, and works within his language and framework, acknowledging that she is not one of the chosen. Yet at the same time she takes his imagery and finds a way in, stating that even the dogs get the crumbs from their masters’ table. She did not demand the whole loaf. She understood that she could be sustained on crumbs. We who are used to having so much abundance, part of a society that feels entitled to so much, used to claiming the whole loaf, can we imagine ourselves willing to be grateful for crumbs? In some ways the current pandemic calls us to this, to finding the graces in the crumbs when we cannot have all that we are used to. And it calls us to share even those crumbs with those who have less.
I imagine that part of what allowed the Canaanite woman to persist in humility was her love for her daughter, the fact that she was asking for someone else. I realized that when I am asking for and advocating for someone else, such as when I advocated for the refugee families I was working with or now when I advocate for my aging mom or for a child or other vulnerable person, I have the courage to be much more bold and persistent, more likely to ask to talk to a supervisor, more likely to push for services or redress to a problem than I would ever be for myself. It reminds me how much we need one another, how much we need community. I need you to advocate for me for that which I cannot ask for myself, to be like the Canaanite woman or the friends of the paralyzed man who lowered him through the roof, and you need me to advocate for you and together we need to advocate for and with those who have been excluded and have no one to advocate for them. It is our love that gives us both the courage and the humility we need to do this.
Now for the question of Jesus. Who is this Jesus? I am deeply disturbed by the Jesus I meet in this passage. There are some interpretations that suggest that he was testing the woman when he calls her a dog, but for me that does not ring true. Even worse than calling her a dog would be that he would purposefully humiliate her and cause her more pain as some kind of test. Rather, I believe that Jesus is just being human. Megan McKenna in her book Not Counting Women and Children notes that “it would be easier if Jesus ‘turned on’ his God-side and related to her (and so to us) as the teacher, the one separate from our realities. We see that as Jesus’ rightful place…. We’re not used to dealing with this kind of Jesus.”
Yet we proclaim that Jesus is both human and divine. But I think often his human nature gets short shrift. If he is truly human, then like all of us, he had to develop and grow in understanding of who he was, of his mission, of God’s vision for the world. While Jesus was without sin, he grew up in and was shaped by a world with social/systemic sin. Seeing the Canaanite woman as an outsider, calling her dog, I would suggest came out of this systemic/social sin that imbued his society. Just as today we have insulting terms for people of other races, genders, sexualities, immigration and economic statuses. Similar to our reality today in which we are taught to be blind to racism, homophobia, sexism, etc., Jesus had to grow in his ability to see the injustices of his time. We are so used to him challenging these injustices that it is disconcerting to see him act out of one of them.
McKenna also notes that as this story begins, Jesus was withdrawing, leaving his own place and people, taking space and some much-needed time away. He didn’t want to be seen. After confrontations with the Scribes and Pharisees, he needed rest and time apart to reflect and decide how to continue his mission in the face of rejection and misunderstanding by his own people. He too had human needs. He was struggling to understand his identity, mission and calling in light of this rejection. He had understood himself as called to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet they were rejecting him. What now? Just as Jesus ultimately helped the Canaanite woman, she too helps him. She names and affirms his identity and helps him clarify and expand his understanding of his mission.
It is this humanness of Jesus that gives me hope and courage. I take comfort in knowing that sometimes Jesus in his own human need was sometimes irritated by interruptions and unexpected demands, that he too needed to grow in insight and wisdom, to expand his vision of the inclusivity of God’s kindom. I am grateful that Jesus provides an example of humility as well – that in the face of the Canaanite woman’s challenge, he allowed himself to be changed, to open, to grow into a fuller understanding of God’s vision and his mission, a mission that included all people, a mission that was foreshadowed in our reading from Isaiah that spoke of “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.”
As we confront the racial injustice and other injustices in our own times, we can often feel afraid of facing our own prejudices, our own often inadvertent cooperation in systemic oppression. We can be afraid of the difficult conversations that are needed and the challenge of truly listening to another, attempting to enter into another’s worldview, of crossing boundaries to encounter the other. In Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we have the examples of courage and openness and humility that we need. In staying with the dialogue, the interaction, they helped each other and modeled for us a way forward for our own times.
McKenna, Megan. (1994). Not Counting Women and Children. Chapter 5: The Canaanite Woman
Wiederkehr, Macrina, OSB (1988). A Tree Full of Angels. Chapter 4: The Prayer of a Woman Who Understood Crumbs
Haugen, Marty. I Was on the Outside from the Song of Mark (the Markan version of this story in song):