Every now and then I come across these pictures where you are supposed to find items hidden in the picture. Kind of a “what’s wrong with this picture? game.
I felt like I was playing a Bible version of this as I was reading through the Gospel lesson for today.
There are all the familiar components: Jesus, disciples, someone crying out for mercy/help; the same person seeking exorcism/healing for her daughter. All these elements are familiar. This is what makes the picture look normal.
But this is what is wrong with the picture.
- They are in Tyre/Sidon – north of Galilee, an area traditionally occupied by Phoenicians. This is old Canaan and paganism. This is not just gentile territory. This is the old Canaan with all manner of paganism and false gods and beliefs.
Ostensibly they are there because Jesus needs a break from the religious leaders. He has endured a bit too much Pharisaic righteousness of late and needs to step away and re-group.
- This dear, desperate woman knows who Jesus is. She uses titles that only a person of faith would know. She cries out “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” That is out of place – people don’t shout those words in Canaan. Definitely not part of the local language of the streets in that region.
- Jesus’ response is all wrong. This is not the benevolent Good Shepherd we know and adore. First he ignores. Then, he dismisses her because she is outside the scope of his mission. He comes for the lost sheep of Israel. He even calls her a dog. What are we to make of this? He is being uncharacteristically blunt.
- Her response is all wrong. She should have been silenced or chased away. But she stands her ground before the Lord, the Son of David. She argues with Jesus. She explains in no uncertain terms that she may not be a part of the chosen, beloved people of God to the south, but she will gladly receive any little bit of left over grace. Her hope and savior stands before her. She is not greedy. She will take whatever bits of grace he casts her way. She will be grateful.
Now, that is a picture of faith. Her hope and trust in Jesus is so significant and runs so deep, she just asks for the merest of grace.
Jesus is impressed and gives her grace and more!
This is a powerful episode in the ministry of Jesus. Powerful because something is wrong with this picture. The wrong person has faith.
This has happened twice before in the gospel of Matthew. The first time is when the Magi – the wise men from the East – come to pay homage and worship the Christ child. The second time is the Roman Centurion in chapter 8.
The things that are wrong this picture grab us and remind us that God’s grace is for everyone. The Holy Spirit is working in people and in places we would never suspect.
No one knows why that Canaanite woman knew to call Jesus Lord and Son of David. My speculation is this. She befriended the wife of a Jewish merchant. Somewhere in the course of their conversation about the events of the day, perhaps after another wave of violence or another day of struggling to stay alive, the Canaanite woman asks in exasperation, “Is this all life is? Is it only violence and poverty and hunger?”
In response the Jewish woman shares her faith. No, this is not all that there is. One day Messiah will come. This is the Lord, the Son of David. He will bring peace. There will be food and drink for everyone on that day. Perhaps she finished by quoting from Isaiah 55-56 or 61?
The Canaanite woman heard that promise, remembered it, and when Jesus came to town the Holy Spirit connected the word of promise to the person of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit worked faith in her heart.
This may not be what actually happened. But, however it is that this dear Canaanite woman came to have faith in Jesus, we have an incredible story of grace to reflect upon.
This is a reminder to all of us that we can never allow an opportunity pass by to share our hope in God with those we are around. We never know where that witness will lead sometime in the future.
When we are looking at our world and counting the number of things that are wrong with that picture, we know the One who through his loving sacrifice on the cross and the power of his name can make the picture right.
All God’s people say…Amen.