We — all of us at Bluestone Farm, that is — are in retreat today. Seems a good opportunity to sit with a bit of scripture and think about its message. And why not use Sunday’s, which is one of my favorites: the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Syro-phoenician woman.
… Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out to us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Pretty interesting stuff, no? Here is Jesus, apparently refusing to use his gift of healing to save the life of a child. How do we square that with our belief that Jesus was perfect, all-compassionate, the quintessential turn-the-other-cheek advocate, the son of the Most High, to whom nothing is impossible?
Why did he refuse this distraught mother’s plea for help?
Jesus seems rude: he ignores her at first, then proceeds to insult her by implying that curing her daughter amounts to throwing his healing gifts to the dogs. Ouch.
Barbara Crafton makes an interesting point; it looks an awful lot like Jesus is exercising an unfortunate prejudice; he’s Jewish, the pleading mother is a Canaanite. Not the kind of image we favor for our savior.
Many interpreters of scripture say that Jesus was having a growing-up moment here — that the woman’s persistence in the face of his resistance is calling him to stand on higher ground. And he seems to do just that in the end.
On the other hand, Fr. Thomas Keating suggests that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, that his intent was to draw the woman more deeply into her faith. And she seems to do just that in the end.
Perhaps both are true. Maybe the message here is that all of us can use a little shove now and then to help us grow. Doesn’t hurt to keep an open mind if your goal is walk hand in hand with God.