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.
So Jesus travels to a place that is not his, to an unfamiliar place some distance away. It’s not the wilderness the way we normally define it with deserted pathways and dangerous hideouts and such. But it IS a wilderness. When we journey through unknown territory, through places that are not our home, through places that are not ours, places that we have not planned or planted, there is a certain wilderness aspect to them. In Jesus’ defense, he has to be tired. He has to be craving some time along to regroup and reflect on his mission (OK, maybe that’s what the introvert in me is projecting!). But then, all of a sudden, this woman comes up and she’s shouting at him with a foreign accent—not just a loud shout but one that is incessant and wailing and very annoying. She is begging and begging him to heal her daughter. But what could Jesus do? After all, his mission as he understood it was to the Jews and here was this Canaanite Gentile wanting some of his time. Truthfully, this woman had everything working against her—gender, race, religion, class, and nationalism. In the first century, she was the “outcast of the outcasts”, an outcast even in this wilderness in which Jesus finds himself.
Put yourself in Jesus’ place. “Perhaps if I ignore her, she will go away.” But, then, the disciples get involved. “Good grief,” he probably thought, “if they would only be quiet.” And the woman keeps on—shouting and wailing like some sort of banshee. What do you do with a pushy Canaanite woman who won’t shut up? “Don’t you understand…I am not here for you…I must first attend to the Jews…the chosen ones…the children of God…the people to which I was promised…it would not be right to abandon their mission for another.” (I will tell you, the reference to “dogs” is not a nice one. Without offense to the dog-lovers or dogs among us, in Jewish society, dogs were looked upon as unclean, as scavengers. To compare someone to a dog was to lower them to the bottom of society.)
But the woman responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table…Even I, the Gentile, knows that you are Lord.” All of a sudden Jesus’ tune changes. This woman has a faith that will not quit. This woman DOES get it! The mission is indeed to the Jews. But this woman’s faith has brought her to Jesus as a sign of what is to come. This moment is, in effect, a sort of turning point for Jesus’ whole mission. In fact, at the risk of overstepping, you could almost say this was a sort of “conversion point” for Jesus. You also have to consider that this turning point is the reason we’re sitting here. We are not the “children of Israel” but rather those to whom Jesus’ mission was broadened to include.
I’m actually grateful that the writer that we know as Matthew didn’t try to clean up the story. This is a powerful statement on Jesus’ humanness, his searching, his exploring, his changing. In this moment, there, in the wilderness, in the place that was not his, Jesus saw a broader vision of God than even he had had before.
I think that’s why Lent tends to be this sort of wilderness journey. Traversing through places with which we are unfamiliar, places that perhaps do not feel like home, perhaps will never feel like home, gives us a new perspective. Maybe we’re not called to make ourselves at home at all. Maybe we’re rather called to continuously journey through newness, continuously open our minds and our hearts just a little bit more with each turn of the pathway. I don’t believe that God calls us to stay planted where we are; otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many of these pesky wildernesses in the stories of faith and in our own lives. You see, the wilderness is where we change our course, where the road turns if only one small degree and unsettled though we are, we turn with it and continue our journey.
But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell)
FOR TODAY: Look at your lives as if you were visiting. What is out of place? What doesn’t fit? And what is calling you to change your course, to walk in a new way toward a new place?
Grace and Peace,