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Pentecost 10: a direct conversation

Canaanite WomanYou can find this week’s readings here.

Last year I attended the Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto. I participated in a workshop led by Gail Anderson Riccuiti called Reading the Image, Reading the Text. She led us through a process of using art appreciation and skill to help us see the text with different eyes. For example, as we pay attention to negative space in art, one of the practices of exegesis is to consider what is not being said, and how that emphasizes what is in the text.

Now, part of my sermon preparation is looking at images inspired by the text, like this one by Otto Semler of the Canaanite Woman.

This is an awkward passage to preach because it is very difficult to imagine redemption for any of the characters. No matter how you spin the scene, Jesus still says his harsh words, the woman still accepts the title of ‘dog’ (or puppy which really isn’t endearing, let’s face it). And, yet, many preachers fall into the trap of trying to justify Jesus’s insensitivity. This week I am trying to avoid that trap, and spend more energy looking at what happened as a result.

The story of the Canaanite woman, in this lectionary passage, is read following Jesus’s encounter with the Pharisees. Now, these two encounters do not follow each other. Jesus leaves the crowd behind and travels to Tyre and Sidon, an area in conflict with the people of Jerusalem. The woman breaks into Jesus’s day and shouts at him to help her daughter.

In this drawing, there is an interesting contrast between the three men and how they each react to the woman. The text tells us Jesus is with his disciples. The woman fades into the background a bit, almost like part of the curtain. It’s like she has come out of hiding to call out to Jesus. The man to the right of the drawing has already started walking on, as if she isn’t even worth his time. The other man is in the centre of the painting. Perhaps this is the man who tells Jesus, “Send her away.” There is contempt on his face, and he is also physically putting himself between Jesus and the woman, emphasizing the division between Jew and Gentile and the conflict of the scene–who is worthy of God’s grace?

The only one in the painting to look the woman in the eye is Jesus. While everyone else is ignoring her or talking about her, Jesus talks to her directly. The gesture of his hand is open, not shutting her down (talk to the hand) but engaging, almost as if he is talking with his hand.

If there is one thing I respect about Jesus in this passage is it seems he speaks to her as an equal. This artist seems to agree. Jesus takes on a theological discussion with her. Now, if my daughter was in such distress, and I asked for help, and I was met with a theological statement, I’d be pretty ticked.

But I’m not falling into that trap. Instead, I am looking at what comes out of this. Jesus treats her as an equal, and the conclusion is that she exhibits great faith because she proclaims the truth from her heart, not concerned with how to wash her hands. It’s a messy, uncomfortable truth, that those we want to ignore or from whom we want to protect the sacredness of our traditions are the ones who may be the greatest examples of faith.

Dawn Leger

About Dawn Leger

I am a priest in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, having served in Stouffville, Ontario. I think preaching is a profound and great privilege granted to us by God and our Church. I love the reading, the writing, the proclaiming, the dissecting and the dialogue. I also love to cook, sing, read and laugh, in no particular order.
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6 Responses to "Pentecost 10: a direct conversation"

  • Kyle Norman
    • Dawn Leger