You know, sometimes Jesus seems like a jerk. Here is a woman who loves her sick child, who is asking for help, and Jesus doesn’t seem to care. His disciples are driven to distraction because, still, she persists and they start to whine. You know I like the British term: whinge-they start to whinge about this woman who just needs to get what she wants so she will go away.
We are getting a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity here. As when he interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus is tired and worn out. The difference here is that the Canaanite woman has nothing Jesus needs and the Samaritan woman could draw water for him. Jesus had left the lands of his people to get away from the crowds but even in Tyre and Sidon, people knew he was a healer.
I have been reading Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and he postulates something I had never thought of: there were many healers in Jesus’ time and it was a lucrative occupation--way better pay than a tekton or craftsperson would get. Yet, in all the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus doesn’t charge anyone for healings--no wonder he was so popular. It’s also no wonder his healings were never brought up by the people in positions of power when charges were levied against Jesus. He was admonished for healing on the Sabbath but never does anyone suggest that Jesus DIDN’T heal people.
It might make us rethink whether we want to explain away the healings Jesus performed--the people who lived alongside him believed in his healing power.
And here is this Canaanite woman who has obviously heard of this healer, Jesus, and she sees him as her last resort to have her child healed. She doesn’t have to go on an expensive trip to Seattle Children’s Hospital and worry about where she will stay and whether her vehicle, if she owned one, would withstand the trip or if she could afford the gasoline and eating out. The healer has come to her very own neighborhood! A miracle in itself! A man who heals indiscriminately, for free has come to her town. Except, today, he is being a jerk.
And still, she persisted. William Barclay suggests that Jesus is snotty to her to get her to move beyond just asking for help and getting to a place of faith--a recognition that Jesus is a conduit of God’s power besides being a man. I don’t know that I buy that, Mr. Barclay. She had faith and she might very well have heard of Jesus’ arrival just when she was at the end of her rope and said, “God has answered my prayer by sending Jesus here.”
I think Jesus was illustrating a point to his disciples. He talked just before this story about what defiles a person. It is the things we say and do that exhibit what is in our hearts--not whether we wash our hands before we eat or whether we watch carefully WHAT we eat. Perhaps he was illustrating to his followers that we could be jerks to people who come to us for help or we could stop, have a conversation with them, and find out why they came to us.
Jesus does this, he has a bit of banter with the woman--both of them use word puns about dogs. Jesus is an offensive jerk when he equates the woman with a female dog and she turns it around on him and suggests that even the despised stray dog on the street eats eventually and some folks have dogs that live under the table who get the choicest scraps of food dropped on the floor by the householder’s messy children. She not only persisted, she is smart and she is going to keep pestering because she loves her child and no one is going to stop her.
Jesus finally acknowledges her faith and tells her that her daughter has been healed. I know this woman had faith in Jesus’ healing power because she doesn’t say, “Prove it,” she heads to her home and finds her daughter healed. She believed what Jesus told her when he stopped being a jerk and began to engage her in conversation and listened to her.
So, what do we take away from this? I would suggest that if we find ourselves annoyed with a person, maybe we should stop and consider if we are being a jerk. Are we listening and acting from the heart? And, do we need a heart adjustment?
I have talked to many people over the years who have found that the questions they ask about faith, about God, and about Scriptures are not always welcomed by church people. I had a long conversation on Friday about just this. I can’t imagine someone coming to our church with questions about these things who would not be welcomed. It’s okay to say we are not perfect here--that sometimes, we are jerks and at other times we read something in the Bible and go, “What?” What does that mean for me? What does it mean to me that Jesus was a jerk to a Canaanite woman and then he decided to set aside being a jerk? Because we Gentiles love our children, too. Because we also believe Jesus is a healer and that we can be conduits of healing for others. By listening, by praying, by hearing and understanding as well as we can what a person needs from us. All anyone needs, perhaps, is to be heard, to be seen as a fellow human being, and to be recognized as the beloved of God.