Reflection for the tenth Sunday after Trinity

Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just 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.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Reflection

I recently watched some episodes of a documentary series on TG4 entitled ‘An Bhalla’, meaning the walls. It is about barriers of separation designed to keep people apart in different parts of the world. One episode featured the border between the United States and Mexico (the one President Trump is so keen on) and another episode focused on the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank territory of Palestine. Depending on which side of that structure you live, it is called the ‘security wall’ by Israelis and the ‘apartheid barrier’ by some Palestinians, illustrating the deep divisions between people there.

But there are other kinds of barriers which separate people besides physical structures, such as race, class, creed and gender, which come to the fore in today’s gospel reading from St Matthew. Our Lord was on a journey away from the familiar territory of Galiliee, towards the north eastern coast of what is southern Lebanon today. There, he met a woman from the region, whom Matthew describes as Canaanite.

We are familiar with the term Canaanite from the Old Testament. It is the collective term for the various ethnic groups who inhabited the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. These are the people Joshua and his army were required to drive out when the people of Israel entered to conquer that Promised Land. They are the people that the Israelites were to have no dealings with in order to maintain their holiness and purity as God’s chosen people. When Matthew chose the designation Canaanite, he was spelling out the cultural, social, ethnic and religious gulf between this woman and Jewish people like Jesus and his companions – not to mention her gender, which put her off limits altogether.

She was a woman on a mission, seeking healing for her tormented daughter as any mother would in desperation. She shouted out to Jesus ‘Have mercy on me Lord, son of David’ and was so persistent that the disciples asked him to send her away, ‘for she keeps shouting after us’. She is a nuisance, get rid of her! It never occurred to them that she deserved to be treated with compassion, never mind respect. They were conditioned to view her as ‘other’ – not one of us.

The response of Our Lord appears to us to be out of character. He seemed to say that she didn’t qualify because she was not Jewish, the people to whom he had been sent. She knelt and begged because she was desperate to get help for her child. If the first rebuff was disturbing, the second is shocking: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ What was she to make of this? Was she only a scavenging dog in the eyes of Jesus?

This lady had courage, tenacity and faith: ‘Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table’. She simply would not give up and this is the only debate recorded in the gospels in which Jesus appears to come off as the loser, because she swept away his objections. It had a happy outcome when Our Lord commended her for great faith, her request was granted, and the child was healed.

Matthew’s gospel is the most Jewish of the four, intended for Christians of Hebrew background. His readers might not have been shocked at language like ‘dogs’ to describe Gentile people. They might have found themselves in sympathy with the disciples on hearing the story, when they said ‘send her away, she keeps shouting at us’. But they might have been shocked when Our Lord said ‘Woman, great is your faith’ to a person they had been conditioned to regard as an ‘outsider’ – not one of us. They may have been amazed to discover that the love, mercy and compassion of God extends to all people and overcomes every barrier of division and separation.

We are not unfamiliar with sectarian barriers in this country. We are aware of the deep divisions in our broken world as demonstrated recently in the Black Lives Matter campaign. As members of Christ’s church we have a clear calling to stand against all forms of discrimination that designate other people as ‘not one of us’. We also need to guard our own thoughts and attitudes and recognise that every human being is made in the image of God and deserving of His compassion.

Prayers of intercession

God our Father, hear the prayers we offer to you in faith. We pray for your church throughout the world, for this diocese and for Pat, our Bishop. May your church be open to the needs of all who come, never forgetting that the good news of your love extends to all people. Give us the courage to stand against discrimination and exclusion in all forms and a desire to reach out to welcome all in your name.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for governments and leaders around the world. Heal the wounds of suspicion that divide nations and peoples. Support all agencies working for the cause of peace and reconciliation. We pray for the people of Lebanon who have suffered great loss following the explosion in Beirut. Protect the injured, bereaved and those who have been made homeless or lost their businesses and jobs. Support all agencies working to bring relief to the victims.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for our country and its leaders, especially those with responsibility for public health, as they manage the COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of cases rises, we pray that people will act with responsibility to prevent further spread of the virus. We pray for the people in areas where the latest outbreaks have occurred. Protect all who are at risk through their work, especially all frontline health workers.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are ill and those who care for them. We remember those who have terminal illnesses, those undergoing medical treatment at home, in hospitals or nursing homes. Grant them your peace and healing.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all schools, preschools and colleges which are preparing to reopen, especially our parish school. Guide all principals, staff and board members as they work to keep children safe in a healthy learning environment. Bless all children who will start or return to school and those who will be moving to new schools, or begin college.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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