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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

  1. Kyle Norman

    Commenting on this passage, Charles Spurgeon looks to the response of ‘even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table’ and suggests that the woman’s response amounts to “Yes I am a dog, but I am your dog.”

    He also states that the idea of crumbs falling under the table is rooted in an acknowledgement of the abundance of the Master – that the a table is overflowing with the gifts of the Master.

    Both comments I have found helpful in thinking about this text.

    • Dawn Leger

      I read or heard a similar piece this week comparing this passage to the feeding of the 5,000 and that is was through sharing the loaves and fishes that there were not crumbs, but baskets of leftovers. The more people who are offered God’s grace, the more grace that abounds for all people.

      • Indeed! And following all this, as well as a number of other conversations going on in my circles, I’m reading Sunday’s Gospel in light of a theology of abundance. 🙂

  2. For anyone who has a dog, knows that a dog knows who his master is, who feeds it and who plays with it. These actions are not all carried out by the same person. Especially, the one that feeds and gives drink to the dog. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds ya” was a common phrase my mother used to recite when she was trying to teach me not to take too much of anything. Though as a young girl, I probably didn’t have this understanding. So it is with the Canaanite woman. She knows who Jesus is, is pleading with him to be “worthy enough to feed on the crumbs left underneath the table”. The opposite of abundance is lack of abundance; that is to say, even today, everybody, everywhere, there are lamentations of not enough housing, not enough gas, not enough warriors, not enough missiles, not enough, not enough, not enough…and the list goes on….. I believe Jesus asks us to focus on what we DO have — for this is where our lives are abundant. When I first had my children, I always worried about money, worried about if we had enough to pay the daycare provider, worried about having enough to pay the mortgage, buy food, diapers, medicines…all for the family. I remember sharing my worries with a colleague I worked with and was a good friend of mine, and I remember her response vividly, “you will have enough money and it will all work out”. I have to admit, I had a very hard time believing what she told me, a long time before I felt the words resonate within me entire being. Even as less fortunate as I am today, I can feel what the Canaanite woman feels in this picture “please Lord, just enough to get through the day”. There is often more abundance around us than within us, abundance right before our eyes that we don’t see — if only we stop, take the time to see it! Stop to listen to God’s presence within us, then we will see what and where the Lord Jesus will take us, instead of us taking the Lord to where we want to go and do. Peace of Christ to all.

  3. Well said, Wanita. I think you’ve made the connection that has jumped out at me this time around the lectionary cycle. We can get lost in what whether or not Jesus insulted the woman, or what the Greek really says. And that’s all very important–but in the end, this passage speaks to me in regards to our (all of humanity’s) surprise around who deserves to receive God’s grace. And given that the crowd surrounding Jesus (especially the Pharisees present into the first half of the reading) were both the real and assumed recipients of God’s grace in Jesus’ society, I think the passage calls us to consider, quite seriously, how those of us living in abundance, whether spiritual, physical, or emotional, pass the grace around. Rather pressing given conflict and poverty that has bubbled to the surface around the world in the ver recent past.

  4. Here are my thoughts on this week’s passage. Peace be with you all and hope your week will be a fruitful one.

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