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A woman teaches Jesus something new

As we hear the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, I want us to pause to listen to today’s text from the prophet Isaiah – as the prophet teaches the expansive nature of God’s house – as a house of prayer for ALL peoples.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

1Thus says the Lord:
  Maintain justice, and do what is right,
 for soon my salvation will come,
  and my deliverance be revealed.
6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
  to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

  and to be his servants,
 all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
  and hold fast my covenant—
7these I will bring to my holy mountain,
  and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
 their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
  will be accepted on my altar;
 for my house shall be called a house of prayer
  for all peoples.
8Thus says the Lord God,
  who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
 I will gather others to them
  besides those already gathered.

Today as we worship together and focus on prayer – specifically prayers for healing – I am struck by a story of Jesus, early in his ministry. It is odd, because he does not seem to fully grasp the breadth of humanity that God is calling him to serve. He hesitates to heal a child, because she and her mother come from a tribe that historically was an enemy of the Jewish people. Matthew’s use of the term “Canaanite” to describe this woman, recalls historical animosities and reinforces the fact that significant social barriers existed between Jew and non-Jew.

 There is some difficult history between the people of Israel and Canaan; but that history of war and broken relationship will not stop this woman, this mother, intent on finding healing for her child. She pushes past the verbal brush off and displays a faith in God that becomes an opportunity for Jesus to learn something new. To his rebuff that he is called to focus on the people of Israel, she responds with these words: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 

Inspired by the love for her child, this woman, challenges Jesus’ then limited sense of calling. She kicks down the doors of historical grudges, segregation of ethnic groups, as well as gender mores, and in what some might call a “come to Jesus conversation”; calls Jesus to embrace the depth, width, and breadth of his calling to minister to and with: ALL THE PEOPLES. This Canaanite woman echoes the intent of the prophet Isaiah and teaches Jesus that he was called to care for – and heal – ALL PEOPLE.

 There is nothing like a parent – or in this case – the strength of a mother, living out the role of a “mama bear” moment. I think of the dig deep moments of motherhood (and parenthood), but for the point I think it is important to take note of the strength depicted in this woman’s example.

She reminds me of the “mama bear – come – to – Jesus – teaching – living witness”, of faith in difficulty.

I have seen many mamma bears:  a woman of a sick child - is a force of nature seeking healing, a woman grieving the loss of a child - wails out for justice, a woman seeking the needs of all children be met. She calls out boldly for food, health care, safe shelter and for the opportunity for all children the right to breathe the air around them.

This women’s faith is a witness to her spiritual depth, her connection to the Holy Spirit, and her courage to see things in a way they had never been seen before. When we hear the Gospel of Matthew 15, we are challenged by what we know of Jesus – because his response seems more human than divine.

In this gospel, we witness the amazing moment where Jesus learns something more about who and how God has called him to serve. Jesus is not the healer of one nation – but all nations.

I am thankful for the witness of the Canaanite woman, because she had faith that not only brought healing to her daughter – but helped Jesus see his own ministry and mission in a deeper, wider and grace-centered way.

Because of the lesson of the Canaanite woman who displayed “mama bear” love, courage, and persistence so that her daughter would be healed – she helped Jesus focus for mission to expand and include ALL PEOPLE.

I would suggest, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Canaanite woman helped to define the truth that: God’s love is greater that all the things that try to divide us.

It can be hard to witness Jesus, learning something new, but if we are honest, we know that God has ways of working through moments of surprise and wonder. AND If Jesus needed to learn something new about who and what he was called to live into in his mission, we can assume we might have more learning to do.

 Like Jesus, we are being called by the voice of the Holy Spirit, to learn our mission is bigger than we understand, yet…

Like the prophet Isaiah calling the people of Israel to expand their understanding to include ALL PEOPLE in God’s house of prayer – we too are called to curate space in our world, community and church that welcome ALL peoples. As I look to scripture for resolve, I find the words of the prophet Isaiah calling out: “Maintain justice and do what is right…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

I give thanks for the mamma bears. I give thanks for Canaanite woman. I give thanks for Holy Spirit who taught Jesus about the expansive love and grace of God for all peoples. Without the lessons of these mama-bears – I wonder if Jesus would have stood up for the Samaritan Woman, healed lepers, turned over the money-changers tables in the temple, or even gone to the cross?

The voice of the Holy Spirit calls all mama, papa, young, old, he, she, they, middle-of-life, black, brown, white, bears to use their voice, hands, resources and imagination to make room for ALL PEOPLES in God’s house of prayer.

You may not recognize it yet – but you are a beloved bear of God. You have a voice. You have a calling. You have gifts that God needs in the world today.

This – great expansive mission and family of God – will be a house of prayer. A place of peace and love and care. A place to learn to love and share. This will, you will, we will be a house of prayer.

God, give us your courage. Help expand our vision for mission and ministry to expand to ALL PEOPLE. Teach us that your love is greater. Amen

Matthew 15:21-28

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


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