Monday, August 19, 2013



Yesterday I had the opportunity to read, for about the millionth time (“I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate!”   But I digress.) Matthew 15: 21-28.   You know the story.   A Canaanite, therefore a Gentile, woman, calls out to Jesus

“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15, 22)

Jesus replies with a cold, hard-hearted

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  (Matthew 15, 24)

To her repeated pleas, Jesus gets even colder and more hard-hearted, seemingly downright rude and heartless

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  (Matthew 15, 26)

Then the woman, not to be denied, retorts with something that I suspect neither you nor I would say.  We’d probably say something unprintable, or at least I know I would.   But she says

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (Matthew 15, 27)

Jesus finally relents

“O woman, how great is your faith.  Let it be done to you as you wish.”  And her daughter was healed from that hour.  (Matthew 15, 28)  (Emphasis mine)

This story has troubled me, and doubtless millions of other Christians, for years.   How could Jesus, the Son of God to whom we have devoted our lives, the man of such great mercy and compassion, be such a jerk to this woman?

About twenty years ago, I heard this behavior of Jesus explained away by a priest I respect as a matter of culture.  This was completely unsatisfying, but at least the guy tried to explain this seeming embarrassment.   So I continued to think and pray on this passage, and I think the answer has finally come to me over the last few years, perhaps due to my innate slowness.

Jesus acted like such a rude, insolent boor to this woman in order to show us how we appear, indeed, how we really are, when we determine that people are not entitled to God’s love and mercy because they don’t think like we do or don’t go to the same church that we do.   When we think we, and only we, have the keys to the kingdom, we sound like obnoxious, arrogant, self-satisfied hypocrites…just like Jesus sounded, intentionally, to the Canaanite woman.


Jesus tells the woman that it is her faith that saved the woman and cured her daughter, not her belonging to a certain parish or a certain religion and not her somehow earning His mercy through her good works…as prescribed by her church.   It is her faith in Jesus that saved the woman and her daughter, not her membership in the right ethnic group or religion.  

It is the same with us.   Our faith saves us.   Our certainty that we and only we are right makes us sound like, and be, jerks…and separates us from the One to whom we purport to want to get closer.

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