Summary: Pentecost 13A: First person sermon. The table scraps that Jesus graciously offers the Canaanite woman’s daughter is better than her daughter usually is treated. However little faith we have, that’s enough for Jesus to work with.
Grace to you and peace, sisters and brothers in Christ,
for though we all are Gentiles,
Christ welcomes us to the house of faith. Amen
Thank you for welcoming me to your house of worship today. Earlier in my life— when I was a few thousand years younger— a woman would not have been permitted to tell her story anywhere but at home, among women. But our Lord Jesus has changed things for many of us. Jesus has changed the world.
In your scriptures I am called “the Canaanite woman.” Yes, back then no one bothered to ask my name.
Like many of you, I lived in a rural area. I lived in the region of Tyre and Sidon, just like you might tell people that you live in the country between Marshall and Montevideo. I lived in a very small village— just a few houses near one another— in the area we called Phoenicia, north of Judea, north of Israel, not far from the Mediterranean Sea.
My people would say that we were Phoenicians. We were proud of our heritage. The Jews ... they would say that we were Canaanites, to remind themselves that their God said they could kill us or make us slaves, and take our land away. But they never were able to really get rid of us. We lived all around and even among them. The hatred of the Jews never could drive us away from our homes.
We Canaanites were what you would call pagans. We did not worship the God of the Jews. We had our own gods— many of them. We had our own worship, even sacrificing our children on the altars in our temples. Our worship was quite different from yours.
At the time of your story, I was a troubled mother. My child brought me more pain than blessing. She had a ... problem. She could not be at peace. She could not rest. Something inside her tormented her.
In those times, we called it a demon. We had no doctors who knew what to do about it. She would cry out, wailing, all day and night. Even though I loved my daughter as any mother would, it wasn’t easy to care for her.
Because of my daughter’s problem, people usually wouldn’t talk with me. Oh, I’m sure the neighbors didn’t know what to say— how to make polite conversation about our family. There were no inquiries about arranging a marriage.
Even family members were distant. They never wanted to gather at our home, or invite us to theirs. Sometimes it seemed like they were trying to forget that we were related.
None of the doctors would even look at my daughter. What could they possibly do?
And our temple priests— well, they only wanted to talk with you about children if you were looking for a fertility blessing or interested in sacrificing one of your perfect children. They weren’t in the business of healing the imperfect children.
One morning at our village well, my neighbors were talking about a Jewish rabbi who was traveling through the countryside nearby. No one knew his name. No one really knew why he was there. Some disciples were with him, so perhaps it was some kind of teaching retreat. That wasn’t of much interest to us “Canaanites.”
But I perked up when a neighbor mentioned that she had heard that this teacher was also a healer.
He had healed lepers, paralytics, the blind and mute,
and even people who were possessed by demons.
And he healed people who weren’t Jews.
She heard this man even had healed a woman with a fever.
Some Jews thought he might be their Messiah.
As I walked home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that.
He had healed people possessed by demons.
He had healed people who didn’t believe in his God.
And he had healed a woman.
Some said that he didn’t even need to touch them—
he didn’t even need to be near them.
This man could just say the word,
and people were healed.
This was the first time I had any hope for my daughter.
Maybe she could be released from her torment.
Maybe he was the Jewish Messiah.
I didn’t think about it too long. I decided that I’d try to find this man— teacher or Messiah or whatever he was— try to find him and talk with him.
When I found him, it was dinnertime. His disciples had cooked a meal, so I could smell them from a long ways away. I had decided that I wouldn’t defile them with my pagan presence, so I stood a respectable distance away and shouted to him:
“Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit!”
But he wouldn’t even talk to me. So I shouted again... and again... and again... hoping he would say something, hoping he would heal my daughter.