The Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15.21-28

The meeting between Jesus and a Canaanite woman would’ve been just one among many were it not for the shock of their conversation.

Even though Jesus is sometimes harsh with the Pharisees, we still expect compassion for a woman in need.

And so, when we see Jesus first ignore her and then compare her to a dog, we wonder what’s going on.

I think we can start to get a handle on it by looking at this story in terms of boundaries.

The first boundary is geographical.

Jesus has gone not only to Gentile country but to Canaanite country, the land of Israel’s oldest enemies, in modern-day southern Lebanon.

The Canaanites, who had a reputation for corruption and violence, were living in the Promised Land before the Israelites got there and drove them out.

Some Canaanites remained, though, and so did the bitterness and feuding between them and Israel.

Going there as a Jew could be compared to going from Israel to Gaza today.

So, it was unlikely that any Jews would come there, across that border.

The second boundary is personal.

The passage doesn’t tell us about Jesus’s state of mind, but I imagine he was tired and grieving, and needed some time out.

His cousin, John the Baptist, had recently been killed, thousands of people had been clamouring for his help, and then he’d had the Pharisees arguing with him about petty traditions.

Jesus was and is God, but in his earthly ministry he was God with the limitations that go with being a human being, like tiredness, sadness and frustration.

He needed to set limits and boundaries on the time and energy he spent on helping people, for the sake of his wellbeing, and that of his disciples.

Setting boundaries may sometimes seem like selfishness but it’s vital if we want to serve others joyfully and effectively, and nowhere does the Bible say that Christians are meant to be overburdened and miserable – quite the opposite in fact!

The third boundary is between Jews and Gentiles.

This boundary is revealed when Jesus says that he was only sent to the house of Israel.

This might make us feel left out but Jesus’s ministry follows a pattern that even Paul, the champion of the Gentiles, recognised when he said that the gospel came first to the Jew and then to the Greek.

Israel, as the chosen people of God, was given a special place in the world but it wasn’t for their sake alone.

With Israel’s blessing came responsibility, as way back in Genesis Abraham was told that his descendants were to be a blessing and light for the whole world

Jesus continued Israel’s role by going to his own people first.

However, this passage also teaches us that no boundary should be so rigid that it excludes mercy and compassion.

For all the seeming harshness of Jesus here, he did, in the end, grant the woman’s request, and in doing so he crossed over the Jew/Gentile divide.

After all, he’d just lectured the Pharisees about holding so hard to traditions that there was no room for the loving spirit of the law, and Jesus is no hypocrite.

Here, though, is perhaps the hardest part of the story to deal with: Jesus comparing the woman to a dog.

Obviously, we don’t know how it was said and whether Jesus was smiling or not, and such things can make all the difference between something being an insult or a piece of wry humour.

We do know that ‘dog’ was a common insult used against Gentiles, but that word referred to the feral scavenger dogs who roamed the streets being a nuisance.

The word Jesus uses, though, refers to pet dogs, in fact to pet puppies.

Then, as now, these dogs were generally cherished members of the family, and woe betide anyone who said they weren’t important!

I don’t have a dog now but I used to have a pair of border collie/Labrador crosses.

I loved these dogs, looked after them and fed them.

But, much as I did love them and want to give them what they needed, they weren’t in quite the same position as the humans in the house.

We had our food at our time and they had their food at their time – and maybe they had to wait until we’d finished eating but they would get their turn.

So, it’s not that Jesus is saying, ‘Go away, you’re worthless and I’m not giving you anything’.

Rather, he’s saying, ‘It’s not your time yet, when it is you’ll get everything you need’.

It’s always hard when we don’t get an immediate answer from God, and sometimes God seems most silent when we’re most desperate.

We might’ve experienced this during the pandemic, wondering what’s going on and not getting any answers.

But this woman is not easily put off.

She accepts what Jesus is saying but still believes.

She believes not only that Jesus can help her but that he will help her.

Her faith is not just that God exists and is powerful, but that God is love.

That is the faith that Jesus responds to…a faith insisting that, no matter what he sounds like, his essence is still love and compassion.

She knows that if she can just look him in the eye, his love will not be able to refuse her request.

And she’s right.

There’s an important challenge in this passage: can we believe in God’s goodness even when it looks or sounds like it doesn’t exist?

Even in the middle of a global crisis?

Can we have the kind of faith that a child in a loving family has that her parents will answer when she calls, even if she has to call a few times?

Can we have faith in Jesus…in God?

Not, do we believe God exists…not, do we believe God is all-powerful, or all-knowing … but do we believe that God is love, even when it doesn’t look like it?

Hairdressers

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – 25th July 2020

This week I went to a hairdresser. Just for a trim, nothing major, but it was lovely to have that bit of pampering after they’ve had to close for so long. I’ve also read a letter this week on the internet that was written to a hairdresser. You might’ve seen it but if not, it was from a man who’d brought his wife in for a haircut. She was suffering from dementia and a few months later she sadly passed away. The man wanted to say, though, that she’d loved that haircut. It had made her feel so good about herself she couldn’t stop looking at herself and smiling. The man was very grateful and wanted to tell the hairdresser what a difference she’d made.

It was a lovely story, and really got me thinking about how we don’t always know when we might do something ordinary to us, but which makes a big difference to someone else. We should never underestimate what we can do for others just by doing our job with kindness or making a little bit of extra effort. On the other side, of course, how often do we thank people when they do something that’s helped us? We remember to be grateful for the big things but thanking people for things they might even have realised they’ve done can really make their day as well.

In the Bible Jesus talks about how small things can make a big difference, and about how we can build up a better world with the smallest and most ordinary of things. I think we can all get behind the idea of doing small things to make a big difference, and maybe one of them could be thanking someone for doing small that makes a big difference to us?

Wednesday Worship – 15 July 2020

People Jesus Met – Nicodemus

Hello!

After a week off I am back with another Wednesday Worship series. In this series I’m looking at ‘People Jesus Met’, starting with Nicodemus.

You can watch the video here:

A service sheet is here for those who would like one:

https://thoughtsfromareader.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Wednesday-Worship-15th-July.docx

Hope you find it helpful – let me know if you do.

Mel x

Control

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – May 2020

Someone recently said something to me that I found very interesting. She said that ‘not being in control is not the same as being completely controlled’. I’d been talking to her about feeling powerless in the face of our current situation and how I felt like I’d had all control of my life taken away from me, but those words gave me a new perspective.

There are always things we can’t control. We can’t control weather, illness, accidents and many other things. But this doesn’t mean we’re at the mercy of blind forces and have no say in anything. We can dress properly for the weather we have, follow doctors’ advice to stay healthy, take precautions to reduce the chances of accidents, and so on.

And even in the face of Covid-19 we still have some control. We can choose how we will approach the challenges, whether we will act responsibly to help prevent its spread, what we do with our time at home, even down to small things like deciding to get properly dressed for the day. And we can choose whether we give up in despair or remain hopeful.

The Bible teaches that God is ultimately in control, but we still have freedom to make our own choices – good or bad. And the same is true in our current situation – we’re not completely in control but we’re not completely controlled either.

Community

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – May 2020

A while ago I mentioned that I was getting a new bike and that I hadn’t ridden one for a long time, so I was a bit concerned that I might fall off. As it happens, I haven’t fallen off and I’ve really been enjoying cycling around. Most of the time the roads have been pretty empty of traffic, which helps, but last week things were different. I went out on VE Day for a ride and came across a socially distanced street party. Lots of people all down this normally very quiet road were out the front of their houses, eating and drinking, while kids rode around on bikes and scooters. It all looked like a lot of fun and really cheered me up.

So often, we think that no-one cares about their neighbours anymore but in times of crisis we see that this isn’t true. When it matters people often pull together, look out for each other, and try to find ways to interact. I remember people acting in a similar way during the Great Storm of 1987. I was living in Sussex at the time, which was badly hit, and my road was full of fallen trees. Then everyone started coming out to clear up the mess and help out with food and water, on a road where people tended to keep to themselves.

The Bible, of course, is big on loving your neighbour, and one reason for this is that it’s good for us to live in community and have meaningful relationships. This way we can find and give help when needed, have fun together and learn how to love one another better. I hope that when this pandemic is over we will all have made some new friendships and grown a bit closer to one another. That way, something good can come out of all this.

The A428: Thoughts on Planning

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio on 27th June 2020

This thought refers to long-awaited planning to upgrade a local road.

I’ve had a letter about the proposed Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvements. People will have different views on them but there’s an impressive flyby and drive-through video on the Highways England website showing what it might look like.

I spend a lot of time on the A428 in normal times so I’m extremely interested in what might happen, and how easy it will be for me to get my coffee at the Caxton Gibbet roundabout. I would also like to see more detail about how cyclists can get around safely, given my new interest in cycling, as well as about the environmental impact.

According to the website most people are broadly in favour of the scheme, and I can understand why, as I’ve experienced many traffic jams on that road. It occurred to me, though, that this is a huge project. Being faced with something big and complex to do can be daunting for all of us, and therefore planning is needed, so that we can break the job down into smaller, more manageable tasks. As Henry Ford, of Ford cars, said: “Nothing is particularly hard if you break it down into small jobs”.

It can also help if we have someone on our side to encourage and help us. For me, I feel reassured by knowing that I have my local church community by my side for support, and I’m aware that in the Bible Jesus encourages us to plan before doing something difficult. We don’t need faith to plan, though, obviously, and we can find support in all sorts of places.

Perhaps now, as the lockdown is lifting, might be a good time for all of us to start planning for the future, not only about roads but also in other important areas of our lives.