I spoke recently at my cousin’s church youth service on a Sunday night. Being of the Uniting Church persuasion, they operate under the Common Lectionary so I found myself with the story of Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Matt 15:21-28) to have a look at (last time I ended up with the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man! I think it might be a set up).
Do you recall the story? Jesus is out in the pagan regions and this Canaanite woman finds him and starts begging him to heal her demon possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her but this woman just won’t leave it alone and eventually the Disciples come to Jesus to complain that she is really ruining their feng shui and would Jesus just deal with her?! So Jesus tells her that he’s been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, imply here, “You’re not one of them so just go away” (that could be my occasional lack of tolerance for annoying people being imported there?). Yet she continues to beg and cry out, finally eliciting from Jesus “It’s not good to waste the children’s bread on dogs!” to which she replies seamlessly “Yes Lord; but even the dogs feed from the crumbs that fall from the Masters table.”
Now rather than get distracted by Jesus calling this woman a dog, I am completely amazed at what this woman is prepared to give up for her faith in Jesus.
Acknowledging Jesus as “Lord” she is taking the massive cultural leap of leaving behind her cultural and social security to align herself with this clearly Jewish Messiah. In you and your kingdom Jesus, I place my trust.
When I think about how comfortable I am to step outside my culture and social security and name myself as one of Jesus’ followers and part of His kingdom, it makes me wonder how much I’m willing to pay to follow Jesus. What am I prepared to turn away from to embrace Jesus as “Lord”? What am I prepared to stand for to embrace his Kingdom? A kingdom of the broken hearted, blind and former captives. A community of those who mourn and are persecuted, poor in spirit and meek. Are these the ones that I’m prepared to become one of?
But wait there’s more! The woman then goes on to pay a further cost, sacrificing her dignity, pride and ego by making herself into an absolute nuisance by constantly pestering Jesus and his followers. Like a dog with a bone she just keeps going until she finally gets his attention. And then with his full attention, he none too subtly calls her a dog not worthy of what he has. But rather than getting offended and fighting back, this woman completely divests herself of any ego and embraces the slur. “Even if I am a dog Jesus, is there not a crumb that falls from the table that I might have?” To be honest, I don’t know how I would react if I found myself in this conversation. Ignored and insulted, I’m not sure if I would have persisted with the faith in Jesus that this woman demonstrates.
Adversity is a funny thing when it comes to faith. When I think of faith, I don’t usually think of it as hard work, wrestling with silence and then experiencing belittlement. I wonder whether this might be one of the reasons that in the West people “try” faith in Jesus and then give it up “because it just didn’t work”. We cling to a faith of convenience which when confronted by seeming nothingness we abandon as unreal or unhelpful.
The final cost that I see this woman prepared to pay is her willingness to abandon any sense of control in this situation. Maybe this is why she persists in the silence and embraces the abuse? There is nothing I can do but let it all go. Divest myself of everything.
And at this point mercy, transformation and healing are released. Here I think we see the complete cost of faith: complete decline into restoration and life.
Maybe faith isn’t about keeping it all together, saying and doing all of the right things and creating a nice community of people who are all doing the same thing.
Maybe faith is about falling fully into the chaos and mess of life, relinquishing control and ego and crying to the silence for mercy that comes in sometimes unexpected ways?
I wonder if I am prepared to pay the price of faith?
I wonder if I’m half the person that this woman was?