I can be really confusing when someone acts entirely out of character. When we get to know someone, we think we know how they will respond in situations, but sometimes they take us totally by surprise – and this happens in this reading with Jesus.
Who is this Jesus – at first reading not the one I recognise. To not just refuse to help this woman, but to insult her in the process. It is not like Jesus to be so harsh to someone who is asking him for his help, we are used to him going out of his way to restore and to heal. So what is this all about?
John Ortberg suggests that Jesus is testing both the woman and the disciples. He’s seeing where their limits are. Along the way, the reading points to the pain of being left out, and the power of being welcomed in – and we see how each responds.
Tyre and Sidon are in the far north of the Jewish territory – and the Jews despised all who lived there, they regarded them as the bottom of the barrel.
So as far as the disciples were concerned, this woman was an outcast – and yet she came to Jesus in her need.
She, for her part, comes is humility
“Have mercy on me”
and she recognises and acknowledges Jesus as “Lord”. She has the utmost respect for him.
And yet Jesus, the one who welcomed sinners, outcasts, children, ignores her. What’s that all about?
Maybe you and I would walk away at that point when Jesus fails to respond, as the disciples want her sent away because she’s annoying them? The woman has to decide how much she wants the healing for her daughter. How deep is her need, how deep her belief that Jesus would help. Her response is to hang on in there, to ask again.
But what about the disciples? How do they react? They are quite clear in their response – send her away. They do not draw her to Jesus, plead to him on her behalf – they want to get rid of her, she is disturbing them. They thought they knew what kind of people Jesus wanted around him or not. They were included, she was not.
The woman responded by sticking around. She showed Jesus the depth of her faith. She was not a glory-seeker or someone looking for an easy ride. This was her daughter whom she loved so much she would throw herself at the mercy of Jesus for. This was Jesus who she had ultimate faith in.
The disciples, once again, miss the point. Jesus does care about outcasts, those outside our social circle, even noisy women! This woman had clearly worked through her theology. She understood that Jesus had primarily come to work with the Jews, but she also believed that his love was so vast there was plenty left over to spare – what others had swept off the table as excess. And she wants some of it for her daughter.
The challenge for us? Do we love and care enough to stick around. To plead to Jesus on behalf of others? Or do we want to be left in Jesus presence in peace. The gospel is about tolerance and love. Widening the gates of faith to those who may not conform to what we consider acceptable, but who may show us new ways and new depths of faith. How do we respond?
may I not sit in judgement
of who I think you want to help,
and who you would turn away.
May I always be open to all you welcome.
Thank you for the extravagance
of your love and acceptance
that welcomes even me,
and open that up wide