August 20, 2023 - 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15)
“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
We have to wonder how long the silence is after the Canaanite woman pleads for Jesus to heal her daughter.
Then, the disciples complain that she annoys them. And then Jesus insults her with his declaration that the mission of God’s representative on earth does not include her or her daughter.
We can feel the tension as we view this act of great human need. But the tension in the encounter is released with a simple statement of faith. This Canaanite woman has named Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David,” but when she declares her utter dependence on God’s grace, Jesus’ heart breaks open. “Woman, great is your faith!” he declares.
This, my friends, is what faith and fulfillment look like. We must recognize Jesus as God’s agent. It is through Jesus that God makes salvation and justice happen.
This Canaanite woman has broken down barriers imposed by religious tradition, practice, and prejudice. She is an outsider to the tradition. Yet, here she is, outside of her own religious tradition and practice, outside of the “insiders” who are accustomed to God’s will.
As I pondered this week’s readings, I was reminded of some of the tension present in the research that I am undertaking for my Doctorate degree. Rapid changes in our world – specifically around technology – have brought some of our rich traditions and practices of worship under scrutiny. I don’t think that the questions we’re asking are bad. But far too often, our opinions can help us to shape our perception of the “other” and regard “them” as “less than” what “we” are. One of the greatest joys that I received after reading through your honest responses to the survey was that some of you felt like online worship wasn’t your thing or wasn’t as engaging, but you felt that it filled a need for some who could not be with us physically. There was no judgment about it being bad, but that it was an individual decision with no inherent meaning other than what worked for the person.
We don’t see the resolution of this story in today’s reading. What happens next is this bit of Scripture (Mt 15:29-31):
29 After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the maimed, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, 31 so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Today, we have an outsider, outside of her own tradition, approaching Jesus. She acts in a way that is outside of the “insiders’” tradition. And Jesus quizzes her but, due to her overwhelming faith, heals her. The story continues that more came to him (one would presume that they too were outside of the tradition) and were healed.
So what’s the lesson? We could say that we just need to remember that it is through Jesus that God does work here on earth, but I don’t think that’s really it. I think what we need to remember today is that our traditions sustain us, but they aren’t the only way. It’s the reason we sometimes change up the wording to our services. It’s why we offer worship options like the Longest Night Service or the Taizé service that we’re having in November.
In today’s reading, God tells us that our comfort zone is okay, but sometimes we need to think outside of it – not so much for ourselves, but for others who may not find it comfortable. Our God is approachable by all, not those who fit our model, and our job is to help them find God when they approach.