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Sermon for Proper 15A Canaanite Woman

July 30, 2017

Less than a month ago, we saw the huge public display of emotion about the sick child, Charlie Gard.


In today’s gospel, a mother verbally wrestles for a blessing for her daughter.


Moms with sick kids are like that


they won’t let anything get in the way of their taking care of their child.


Not unsympathetic doctors or health regulations


not even a slightly narrow-minded Jesus.




We don’t tend to speak of demon-possession


But I imagine it would be the kind of illness that would cause endless interruptions in your day


lots of terrifying moments and sleepless nights.


you never knew when your child would have another episode so you couldn’t be totally at ease.


I imagine that her daughter’s illness totally consumed this woman’s life.




Matthew stresses the woman’s ‘great faith’ 15.28


perhaps surprising in what he calls a ‘Canaanite’ 15.22


a people who had been lambasted in the Old Testament for their idolatry and lack of faith.


they were the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities destroyed with fire and brimstone


It went back to the time of Noah.


Canaan was the son of Ham, who saw his father naked.


Noah utters this curse: Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers. Gen 9:25-27

God promised Abraham: ” I will give to you, and to your offspring after you……all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding.” Gen 17:8


The Israelites were commanded by God to annihilate all Canaanites. Dt 20:17




But it turns out that not al Jews agreed with this.


Archaeological evidence doesn’t support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages:


Cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day.


Genetic research indicates that the slaughter was much less extensive than described.


99 per cent of modern Lebanese people have inherited about 90 per cent of their genetic ancestry from Canaanites




The Canaanites are credited with inventing the first alphabet


Great seafaring traders, they established colonies across the Mediterranean.


They had to.


Tyre was on an island; as Ezekiel put it ‘surrounded by the sea’ 27.32


The coast nearby was unsuitable for cultivation;


Israel’s role to provide wheat and olive oil for Tyre was established 1,000 years before Jesus. 1 Kings 5.11


As in Elijah’s time, a drought in Palestine would mean a potential fam­ine in Tyre and Sidon 1 Kings 17.7-16


After Jesus’ time, Tyre and Sidon petitioned Herod Agrippa I for food from Palestine Acts 12.20


In short, Galilee was the breadbasket, that provided Tyre with its food.


The agrarian Jewish economy was largely self-sufficient


not geared to the market economy


the pressure of tax took its toll on the peasants


To pay their debts, Galileans sold wheat to Tyre while their own children went hungry.


Hence Jesus’ apparent insult about giving the children’s food to the dogs.



Amos condemns finance that does not serve ordinary people


`They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals’ 2 .6b; 8.6a.


Ezekiel lists the ways that Tyre is a huge merchant 27 v. 2


a trading and shipping centre for goods and peoples. vv. 4, 26


Globalization 600 years before Christ:


wood from Lebanon v. 5


linen from Egypt v. 7


soldiers from Persia v. 10


slaves from Greece v. 13


sheep from Arabia v. 21 Crossing the River of Fire  – W Wilde (Epworth) 2076 p. 171f




Jesus had said to his disciples, “Go no­where among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matt. 10:5-6.


That reflects the standard Jewish worldview


Their ideas about God’s way with the world were complete, closed


They already knew God’s will;


nothing new was needed, nothing fresh could enter.


Jesus was formed by the traditions of his people


But also radically committed to the will of God as a present reality,


so he is able to hear God say a new thing through this woman from the margins




Today’s gospel is the only time that Jesus crossed boundaries to the outside world


The woman was upper class, being Greek-speaking


from the same aristocracy that only a generation before had invaded Jesus’ homeland.


She is an object of three-fold pollution,


being a single mother, Gentile, and having a child.


Female children were not greatly valued:


they cost the father money in terms of a wedding dowry;


troublesome pieces of property until finally married,


when they became the property of their husbands.


The woman is alone, outside of the home


A lone woman, boldly confronting a man in the street is behaviour typical of prostitutes


But this mother obviously values her daughter immensely.


How else can we explain the risk she takes in going to see Jesus the Jew?




And Jesus calls her a dog.


a racist name for Gentiles.


dogs in ancient Palestine weren’t pets.


They were wild, and roamed the streets in packs;


Scavengers who devoured anything they could get their teeth into.


Matthew softens Mark’s Greek word to something more like a household pet, a puppy, a little dog.


And some scholars suggest that Jesus spoke with a twinkle in his eye


‘only joshing’


But as one female scholar puts it, “Even if you call me a little bitch, I still find that terribly offensive!”




A group of the very pious were waiting in heaven for the judgment.


As they are complaining about the wait, they begin to see some of the “sinners” they knew on earth coming into the waiting room:


a corrupt politician, a woman who’d been convicted of shoplifting


a prostitute, a drug addict, a man who spent most of his life in prison.


With each of these arrivals, the feeling of hostility increased.


“What makes you think you’re going to get in with that evil, sinful life you lived on earth?”


“We are relying on the mercy and grace of God. What makes you so sure you’re going to get in?”


“Our good lives, of course.”


Time began to drag on.


“If those other people get in, there’s no justice. After all the sacrifices we’ve made. It’s not fair.”


The Lord arrived.


“I understand you’ve been wondering why there has been no judgment.”


“Yes! We want a judgment. We want justice.”


“The judgment has already taken place. You’ve judged yourselves. By judging these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you have judged yourselves. In rejecting them you have rejected me. You have shown yourselves unworthy of the kingdom of God.” Sunday and Holyday Liturgies, Cycle A, by Flor McCarthy

  1. 151-3




How do you come to this table?


Do you come as a confident insider simply assuming God’s favour?


Or do you come wondering where you stand with God, longing for the divine presence, yet feeling like an outsider?

We come to the table as God’s children.


We are getting the bread on top of the table, not crumbs off the floor.


When you receive this morsel of bread, do you know the power of what you hold in your hand?


This bread is a gift of grace that says God has not overlooked you.


No matter what your gender, race, political affiliation, ethnic background, sexual orientation


or any other human boundary that divides,


God still searches your innermost thoughts and loves you.


Eating of this bread is accepting this wondrous gift of God’s love


and believing that it will heal your life just as surely as the Canaanite’s daughter was healed.

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