Summary: Rejection is something we all deal with, but when it comes to our dealings with the God of all grace, we need to know that with faith, there is nothing that can keep us from receiving God's touch of mercy.
Not too long ago, the website Business Insider, published an article entitled, “7 Brutally Honest Rejection Letters.” Included in this article were rejection letters to a woman seeking employment in Disney’s creative department in 1938, author Gertrude Stein, and screenwriter Tim Burton. Then there was this letter from Sub Pop, an independent record label based in Seattle. It said, “Dear Loser, Thank you for sending your demo materials to Sun Pop for consideration. Presently, your demo package is one of a massive quantity of material we receive everyday at Sub Pop World Headquarters. [Your material] is on its way through the great lower intestines that is the talent acquisitions process. We appreciate your interest and wish the best in your pursuit. Kind regards. P.S. This letter is known as a ‘rejection letter.’”
Or how about this rejection from the New Delta Review, a literary magazine based in Baton Rouge: “Thank you for submitting. Unfortunately, the work you sent is quite terrible. Please forgive the form rejection, but it would take too much of my time to tell you exactly how terrible it was. So again, sorry for the form letter.”
We cringe just hearing these letters, don’t we? We can all identify with the pain of rejection, I think. It’s happened in our lives in one way or another, though hopefully not as brutally as the poor folks on the receiving end of these letters! We can’t know what happened to the musician and the writer who received these rejections. They may have looked at this bad news as just another bump in the road to what they were sure would be a promising career. Or these letters may have stopped their careers before they even really started. In my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to go to grad school to pursue a master’s degree in instrumental conducting. I applied to three schools. I went for a live audition and interview at one, I sent an audition tape to another, and I was rejected by all three. That was it for me, and it sure did make me sad. I never did go to school to get a graduate degree in instrumental conducting. Instead, I got a job teaching high school band.
But sometimes, rejection isn’t the end of the road, is it? Hindsight is twenty-twenty; I obviously wasn’t meant to get a master’s degree in the field of music. And as we all know, Tim Burton and Gertrude Stein went on to excel in their chosen fields; the early rejection they both received perhaps a motivation to try even harder to attain their greatest wishes. Rejection doesn’t have to stop us, either. Certainly, rejection wasn’t a deterrent to the Canaanite woman in this morning’s scripture reading. She wanted her ailing daughter to be made well, and she wasn’t going to give up until that very thing happened.
So let’s take a look at the woman at the center of today’s passage from Matthew. This woman’s story is recorded twice in the gospels; here in Matthew, but also in Mark’s gospel, where she is described as the Syro-Phoenecian woman. In both cases, the intent is to make very clear that this woman is an outsider. She is not a Jew. Mark’s description of the woman as Syro-Phoenician is geographical, placing here in a region beyond the bounds of Jewish territory; an area that we would refer to as Gentile territory. Matthew takes the distinction a bit further by describing her as a Canaanite. In doing this, Matthew is not just placing her outside Jewish territory, but actually setting her against the Jews, as the Canaanites were the people the Jews displaced in order to move into the Promised Land centuries before. Clearly, this woman is not a person Jews would associate with under normal circumstances.
The next thing we learn about this woman is that she has a daughter who is suffering from demon possession. I believe it is safe to assume that like the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, this woman was also desperate for healing. Many of you know the pain of watching your child suffer, even when it’s just from a little stomach virus. You’d do anything to make the aches and pains stop. Parents of children suffering from cancer often say they wish they had gotten cancer instead of their children. We do anything and everything we can when our children are sick to make them comfortable and to help them get better as quickly as possible. And that’s exactly what this Canaanite woman is doing. She has heard about a Jewish healer named Jesus, and she wants to see if maybe he can heal her daughter of this agonizing affliction.
And it just so happens that Jesus is in the region. As Jesus makes his way through Tyre and Sidon, the Canaanite woman sees the perfect opportunity, and she knows she must seize it. She sees Jesus walking by, and so she does what any of us would do when we have a sick child and a renowned healer is in the neighborhood, she cries out to him. What follows is a four-fold rejection. First, Jesus ignores the woman. Undeterred it seems, the woman continued to cry out, for the next rejection was dealt by the disciples. Obviously annoyed by the woman’s noisy nagging, they appeal to Jesus to at least send her away, which prompts the third rejection. This time, Jesus responds neither to the persistent cries of the Canaanite woman, nor to the pleas of the disciples. Instead, he makes a rather general statement indicating that he has no intention of getting involved with this outsider woman and her daughter. “I have been sent only to the lost sheep, the children of Israel.”