That annoying Canaanite woman is at it again and not even Jesus can catch a break. This annoying woman exposes Jesus for the human being that he was and shatters our illusions of Jesus the god-like super-hero.
It is clear from the way that the story is told that Jesus was trying to ignore this annoying woman’s incessant pleas. But she will not leave him alone. According to the story this woman was worried about her child.
Jesus was a man of his time; a man who was raised in an environment where women were to be seen and not heard; a man who was raised to believe that his people were superior to other races and tribes, a man who wasn’t about to be disturbed by the yammering of a woman who nothing more than a Canaanite. Jesus was, after all a rabbi, and a busy rabbi at that. According to the story, Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water. He was a rabbi who was in demand, the crowds couldn’t get enough of him, Jesus had places to go and people to see.
They were in the district of Tyre and Sidon and that place would have been full of Canaanites. He could have easily wandered into neighbourhoods where “those” kinds of people live. “It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that area came and cried out to Jesus, “Heir to the House of David have pity on me! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed.” Jesus gave her no word of response.
While reflecting on this text let me just say, some people simply don’t know when to quit: “Help me. Help me. Help me!” She persisted, and persisted, and persisted. Still she persisted. It doesn’t matter how much you do, or how hard you work, or how much you give, there’s always somebody who wants more. You have to draw the line somewhere. If you try to help everyone, you won’t be able to help anyone. We’ve got to establish boundaries, clear boundaries.
But there’s always someone, who thinks that the rules don’t apply to them. There’s always someone willing to push you beyond the limits. But Jesus was having none of it. “Jesus gave her no word of response. She persisted, and persisted, and persisted. Still she persisted. Finally, Jesus turned on the woman, and in no uncertain terms, Jesus made his position clear: “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”
That ought to put her in her place. Jesus was after all a Jewish rabbi, who did this Canaanite woman think she was? Bad enough that she is a woman, breaking all the rules of decorum. A woman speaking in public to a man like that, was simply scandalous. “Those people” were considered to be the scum of the earth back then. “Those people” were the very people that God commanded the “Chosen People” to kick out of the Promised Land a long time ago.
Those Canaanites simply don’t know how to behave in public and when to stop. She persisted, and persisted, and persisted. Still she persisted. I mean throwing herself like that at Jesus’ feet and pleading with him, “Help me, rabbi! Help me!” How could she demean herself like that? Jesus told her: “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Every single person who heard him, knew exactly what he meant. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel; Jesus was sent to the children of God. The Canaanites were nothing more than dogs and everybody knew that. According to New Testament scholars, Jesus called this woman, dog. Did Jesus just call her the B word?
And just when you think Jesus has put her in her place, she pushes him all the more: “True, Rabbi,” she replied, “but even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.” She used Jesus’ words against him.
New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg insisted that we should ask ourselves, “Why it is that the gospel writers told the stories they told the way they told them?” Well perhaps, if we look beyond our carefully constructed images of Jesus as some sort of whiter-than-white, holier-than-thou super-hero, we might just be able to see Jesus the man; a man who was just as much the product of his culture as any of us are; a man who wasn’t above resorting to a racial slur when he was up against it, a man who from time to time needed to be pushed beyond the boundaries he’d set for himself, a man who could have chosen to hide behind the privilege granted to him by virtue of his gender, his race, his class, and his religion.
The good news is that when confronted by the reality of his privilege, Jesus was able to see that this ever-so-annoying woman, with her incessant demands has a very good point. “You may think we’re nothing but dogs, you may think you are entitled to call me a b—-, but even dogs are entitled to a few crumbs.” Jesus got there in the end. Sadly, it took this annoying, uppity woman to shame him into seeing the reality of his racism to get him there, but Jesus got there in the end.
Some of us would rather not look at the boundaries we’ve drawn let alone the reasons we drew those boundaries in the first place. Some of us don’t believe that we’re capable, let alone guilty of racism, or sexism, or classism, and we sure don’t want anybody exposing any hidden truths about our carefully constructed reality. It’s hard to be open to change.
This being human thing sure isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Jesus and it isn’t easy for any of us. But this being human thing is who we are and recognizing our humanity and the humanity of everyone we encounter is what this life of ours is all about. The truth is that at one time or another we have all been where Jesus was, wanting to be left alone to get on with it, never believing for a moment that we are anything but right, happy to live out of privileged lives.
This being human thing is an ever-evolving process and sometimes we have to look closely at things, which we would rather not see about ourselves. Sometimes, we have to erase the boundaries which we have drawn and let some really annoying people move in. Sometimes, we have to be like this Canaanite, so that we can push people beyond their taken-for-granted boundaries, beyond their comfort zone.
When push comes to shove, this being human thing requires that we live in community and life in community is messy and annoying, but life in community can also shape us in ways which open us to new ways of being human. Our communities are being challenged to move beyond boundaries which some of us have become very comfortable within. Some days it feels like there are dogs everywhere nipping at our heels. Sometimes, we’d all like to retreat behind the boundaries of whatever privilege our communities have granted to us, but those dogs just keep on barking at us. What voices do we hear? Help us! Black Lives Matter! No to racism. No to homelessness. No to violence, and so on.
If we are to follow Jesus, we too must step beyond the boundaries and open ourselves to new ways of being in the world. When confronted by the reality of his boundaries, Jesus broke all the rules and a child was healed. Do we have the faith to follow Jesus beyond our boundaries so that healing can happen?