"Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon…"
Silence, refusal to act, exile, condemnation - all the responses you'd expect, right? What are we dealing with here in Matthew 15 this Sunday?
She wants a better life for her 11 year old than the violence of gang warfare. So mother and son abandon their life in Columbia and make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. She endures not only the physical hardship of the year-long journey but the suspicion and mistrust of those who do not want them here, that see her and her son and those like them as threats to the security of their way of life. But she will not be dismissed! She is not a "dog." She is a mother….
She tirelessly advocates for her daughter who is physically challenged. She is constantly meeting with school administrators and teachers to obtain the resources and accommodations her daughter needs to learn and succeed. Her persistence can be exhausting and school officials dread her calls - but they can't help but admire her dedication and perseverance. She wants only what her child needs and is entitled to - no, she will not settle for "scraps." She is a mother.
The Canaanite woman in this week's gospel lives in our own Tyres and Sidons. These women are often reduced to statistics and categories; we immediately blame them for their situation because of the demographic they fall into. But they are driven by that God-like love that is part of the vocation of motherhood. The dismissed woman in our gospel bridges the gap between the various tribes she has been shut out of. She dares to cross the divide between Jews and Gentiles, "insiders" and "outsiders."
This encounter with Jesus takes a few fascinating turns. The realm of peace and acceptance, healing and faith seems to overwhelm even the most traditional of defenses and excuses. This mother will not be denied. Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman is a sign of that same hope, challenging us to transform our own perspective of those we dismiss as less than we are because of their culture, language, gender, or faith. May our eyes and spirits be open to see every person as God sees them: as God's beloved children.
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