Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Affirmation of Baptism for Isabel DeWitt Schneider
20 August 2017
JoAnn A. Post
Jesus left that place 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.”7She 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.
“I really enjoy living here on the North Shore. The schools are wonderful. My neighborhood is quiet. I know that it is a privilege to live here; I know that we have more here than most. And I’m grateful.
“I am generous with tips for both my cleaning lady and the young man who cares for my lawn. His name is Jamal or Camal or Hallal, or something like that.
“When my daughter came home with a C in Algebra I knew that I could call the principal and get it taken care of right away.
“I saw a family I wasn’t sure about looking at the house next door that’s for sale, but then I never saw them again. I have the realtor’s cell phone number—we go to the same nail salon.
“Of course, it’s not always easy living here. The taxes just keep going up, but I have my attorney working on an appeal. I have to find a new dog groomer—the last one complained that my dear little Mooch had an attitude. Imagine.
“Yes, I like it here on the North Shore—the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee.”
We have typically read this story as though the woman were a desperate beggar, crawling to Jesus on hands and knees for her daughter’s sake. But the region in which Jesus travelled was exclusive and expensive. She was quite possibly a woman of means. Look at the clues. The way she approached him—shouting and expecting immediate action—tells us that she viewed Jesus as a service provider, like her cleaning lady or landscaper. When he refused her, her debate-worthy rebuttal indicates that she was well-educated and articulate, used to standing her ground.
But as a mother of daughters myself—a mother on the North Shore of Lake Michigan—I imagine fear for her daughter made her a little bit louder and little bit worse than she might ordinarily have been. We need to give her little room. She was not her best self that day.
I have a friend who used to work for the Navy, now a Lutheran pastor, whose policy in dealing with demanding and unreasonable sailors or demanding and unreasonable parishioners is “Don’t negotiate with terrorists.” Jesus’ response to this demanding, unreasonable North Shore Mom? He didn’t negotiate. He was silent. She hadn’t expected silence.
Events in Charlottesville last weekend and the subsequent rationalizing and obfuscating have been jaw-dropping. And after a loud week of opinions and accusations, and after a bloody terrorist attack in Barcelona, we are now being advised to keep silent. For a little while. On purpose. For two reasons.
First, we who are white and privileged are asked to stop talking and listen to our Jewish and black brothers and sisters about their real experience in our country. Second, we are advised to keep silent to starve the self-styled militia and neo-Nazis of attention, the way you deny oxygen to a fire.
Is that why Jesus was silent in the face of the Canaanite woman’s demands? He wanted to listen to her experience? Hardly. He was silent because he hoped she would just go away.
Whether out of desperation for her daughter or irritation at being ignored, she refused to be silent. But she stopped shouting. She recognized that she was powerless over whatever it was that tormented her daughter. She realized that nothing she had—wealth, status, education—could save her daughter.
“Lord, help me,” she said. And he did. But not without some urging.
They both behaved badly. She imagined him a servant who would do her bidding. And Jesus imagined her to be the caricature of the rich 1%. Each was wrong. Each was changed.
You know who else lives on the North Shore? Our sister Izzy. Every day of her young life she wades in the deep waters of our competitive culture—deep waters in which everything from soccer to social life can be demanding and demeaning. It would be easy to give in to the demands and expectations, to adopt an entitled attitude, to expect to be served.
But Izzy will not do that; she will renounce that. She is a baptized child of God; she swims in other waters.
Today, like the Canaanite woman, Izzy seeks a miracle.
Today, like the Canaanite woman, Izzy kneels for a blessing.
Today, like the Canaanite woman, Izzy receives a gift.
Not North Shore gifts of wealth or popularity, nor the gift of physical healing that the Canaanite woman’s daughter received. Today we ask for and Izzy receives the things that God wants to give her.
Here’s what we will ask:
- Confirm her faith, that is, remind her of what she believes.
- Guide her life, that is, put her feet on the right road.
- Empower her in her serving: note “serving” rather than “being served.”
- Give her patience in suffering, because we know suffering comes to us all.
- Bring her to everlasting life, because every one of our lives will end.
Does that sound like an entitled life? Like a selfish life? No, it sounds like a faithful life—the baptized life we share with her, regardless of where we live or what we own or who we are.
There will be times to break our silence, to make demands, to shout, to expect. But not for ourselves. We shout and demand and expect for others, others too long denied the gifts we receive every day.
But today is a time for simple words and long silences.
The Canaanite woman begs, “Help me.”
We pray for Izzy, “Guide her.”
Izzy affirms, “Here I am.”