This week’s story from Matthew 15 will become more powerful for us if we remember the timing and context. Jesus has been trying to get a break. He goes off to pray and get away from the crowds. He even packs up his pals in a boat and sends them out to sea. But after a rather stormy conclusion, Jesus is thrust right back into ministry. So, he tries to get away again by leaving the country.
But this pesky, persistent, parent shows up! She is described as a Canaanite woman, which is an anachronistic adjective. It is an old term. But the phrase is probably used to heighten the tension in the tale. There is a long history of fightin’ and feudin’ between the Israelites and Canaanites. She is an “extreme” foreigner.
And yet, she is also a mother who is desperate. Her daughter is possessed by a demon. She needs help. She has heard about Jesus. She seeks him out, fights her way through the disciples’ defense, and gets an interview with him. And how does Jesus react? First, he is silent. Then he calls her a dog. Is he just having a bad day? Or is she outside of his “circle?”
His response doesn’t deter her. She stands toe-to-toe with the Son of God and finally delivers her knockout punchline. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table.” And Jesus changes his mind. Perhaps this is a powerful, pivotal moment in his life, a time when he realizes that he has been sent not just to a certain group of people—but to all the world’s people? This centuries-old story is as relevant today as it has ever been. It doesn’t take long to come up with a list of insider/outsider struggles.