The Gospel this week Matthew 15.10-28 is a tale about traditions and what should be kept and not kept. For example, The Pharisees come to Jesus in the “near North” of Israel from Jerusalem to confront him about the kind of community that he is building and in particular,, to confront him about his allowing his disciples to be ritually impure because they did not wash their hands at meal times.
The Pharisees were for the most part, zealous for the traditions of Moses in ways that others were not. They spent much time studying the Torah (the Law) and provide rules for Levitical purity and holiness and thereby build a truly Jewish nation that was devoted to God and unstained by the world. Much of this was rejected by the ruling class, the Sadducees as an unnecessary innovation. And not every Pharisee followed this either. It is though by scholars that there was a group within Pharisaic Judaism that practiced this but it was not universal.
Jesus confronts his accusers of being hypocritical or of play acting at things because the words of their lips do not match what they believe in their hearts. It reminds us if the fact that as we think in our hearts, so are we. On hearing this, as the Pharisees are walking away, the Twelve question Jesus about his response by asking, “Do you know that you made them mad?” and are not reassured by the response – “Yup”.
Out of this moment Jesus and the Twelve move North and West to the area around Tyre and Sidon – Lebanon. Jesus moves to areas where such people would be loathed to go to have more time with his disciples, to teach, to test and to encourage them in their faith. This is when they are interrupted by a local woman – a Canaanite woman with whom no self respecting Jew would associate with. All this woman had to go with was her faith in what Jesus could do and her persistence for the sake of her daughter at home.
Jesus first ignores the woman and her pesky request for help for her daughter. Seeing that Jesus is ignoring her, the Twelve insist that Jesus chase her off. So Jesus, following that attitude, challenges and draws out the woman’s faith. He is a harsh way confronts the unnamed woman with what people would expect from a self respecting Jew would say: I am looking for God’s people and I am to minister to them, not for people like you.
The woman responds with the fact that even the house dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. The dogs live on what little they can find. She is willing to do the same, with whatever Jesus will offer and will do. Because of her trust and faith in Jesus, she not only receives mercy for herself but at the same time has her daughter rescued from evil and that also happens immediately. There is not only healing and mercy there is also peace and grace for them and the family and for the wider community.
It might be important also to consider the fact that the mother made her request from a position of abasement and worship – on her knees. She humbled herself and persisted in her request. In that moment things changed for her and her community. Real change – transformation – happens as we learn to enter into God’s presence and are shaped by his power and glory for ministry in this world.
Remember that faith, where the Bible is concerned, is about being persuaded that you know the Truth. Faith of all kinds in our modern world has become about whether or not you can have the strength to believe that you believe. Faith becomes a psychological condition rather than a trust in the God of the Scriptures, who has and is acting to bring healing and wholeness to this world in and through Christ. Many are struggling as they watch the structures of the Church crumbling, wondering about what to do. We need to be like the woman in the Gospel and pursue the needs of those around us and the welfare of the cities and towns which we inhabit. We lack confidence in our God and because of that we are afraid to boldly proclaim what God has done.
May God grant us the grace to recover our faith and that in that faith we would boldly proclaim Christ and the coming kingdom of heaven.