Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost — August 20, 2017
“Woman, great is your faith!”
Or, the women who won’t take no for an answer. At first glance, this text about the encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus appears to be simply a story of another desperate person pleading for Jesus’ attention and healing. However, a closer look uncovers other details not readily visible. Jesus’ words to her, as a descendant of the ancient Canaanites, would have been fitting. Jesus’ mission at this point was for Israel alone. The Canaanites had been bitter enemies of Israel. So, staying true to his mission, Jesus ignores her persistent calling to him and his disciples. Could this really have been a racial issue? Or is Jesus testing her as a teacher tests disciples? When he finally acknowledges and speaks to her, she is prepared and confident in her response.
The woman recognizes who Jesus is by acknowledging his identity, something even his disciples struggle to understand. She does not dispute that his mission is first to the Israelites and that her status is secondary. However, she believes he has enough power to address her need. Is this a moment in Jesus’ ministry when he is coming face to face with the breadth of his reach to all peoples?
The movie Hidden Figures, set in the 1960s, focuses on three highly intelligent African American women who struggle to be acknowledged in a society that bases its acceptance or lack of it on race and gender. They are challenged at many levels; however, they persist until someone listens. They will not take no for an answer.
In 2017 we find ourselves still dealing with inequality and demeaning issues of racial and gender bias. Jesus sees the woman as having great faith when she challenges him about her status. As we continue to struggle as a society and a culture to reconcile our shared humanity, are we being called to be the voice that persists in following Jesus’ example?
Jill Kolodziej, director, Antioch, Board of World Mission