In Jesus’ Steps

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I wrote about about this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Matthew 15:21-28, in a post a few weeks ago, Wheat and Weeds. It’s the story of the Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well:

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

As I said in that post, Jesus just doesn’t seem to be acting all that ‘Christ like’ in this passage, and I placed him in a long line of Biblical characters, from Abraham to Jacob to David to the disciples, of “people like us.” In other words, real people, warts and all.

Remember, the Canaanites were one of the ‘nations’ driven out by the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. In this passage, Jesus reminds the Canaanite woman of this, telling her that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” not to “dogs” like her. It is through the woman’s insistence that Jesus finally relents. She seems to out-Christ Christ, in effect reminding him of his own words earlier in Matthew, “I say to you, ‘Love your enemies.’‘”

I really like the story because it so clearly shows Jesus’ human side and makes him much more approachable—he reacts in a very humanly prejudiced way to the woman, seeing her as part of a group instead of as an individual. This is a Jesus who I can relate to! Of course, he opens himself up to seeing her—and his ministry—in a whole new way because of his interaction with her. That’s the hard part to emulate!

This makes this Sunday’s Collect to “Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of [Jesus’] redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life” more possible now that I realize that even Jesus had to be reminded to love his enemies. Like him, I need to be open to new understandings, ready to enlarge my world view. Perhaps those are the “fruits of his redeeming work” that I need to receive.

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