“Make sure,” he said, “make sure that you offer something to the caregivers if you’re preaching this text on Sunday. That mom, she’s a caregiver. Pleading for her daughter’s life.”
Seeing it from that perspective changed my whole view of the text. Redirected my thoughts about where it might take the internal conversation I have out loud with the congregation on Sunday morning. Blending in a bit of insight:
“This story? I love this story. In this story, I could be Jesus. Just ask my step-son. Up there preachin’ a great line on what sits on the heart and comes out of the mouth being way more harmful than anything that might go in. About how bad thoughts and horrible words wreak havoc on the one giving and the one receiving. About how you can’t wash your hands of your awful acts.
And then he takes the next step. The one I can see myself in. But first a bit of history:
Canaanites are the indigenous people of Jesus’ day. Legend says when Moses sent Joshua into the land that would become Israel and Judah, the Canaanites were already there. The ones who lost their villages, towns, and cities. The ones slaughtered by their thousands and tens of thousands. A thousand years later some of them continue to worship their Canaanite gods, refusing to accept the sovereignty of the Hebrew lord. Rubbing their inferiority in Hebrew faces.
Jesus’ next step takes him to a Canaanite woman. A mother. A caregiver. A desperate mother, an anguished caregiver. Her daughter overtaken, possessed, destroyed by a demon that has her fast in its jaws. A Black Dog of a demon.
And What Does Jesus Do? In the face of her need, her anguish, her cry for help, her plea for her daughter’s freedom?
He speaks as a Hebrew would. “My gifts are not for dogs.”
What does this woman, lost in her need, offer in reply? Rising up as only one used to the scorn of the overlord can, she puts his words in her mouth. His dirty, filthy, harmful, abusive words.
“Even a dog can beg for the scraps under the master’s table.”
And like me, confronted in my own hypocrisy, Jesus hears the words. Sees them dropped before him. Steaming piles of self-serving racist commentary. Overwhelmed by the odour of his betrayal he collapses in the face of her response.
“You are the only one here with the faith required to heal her. And you have done it.”
In these days, when the Black Dog howls over so many beloved, remember that. Once there was a woman powerful in love and convinced in faith. So powerful, so convicted that she brought the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Son of Man, the Messiah of Legend and Prophecy, to see himself as empty words, and hollow promise. So powerful, so convicted that she brought her daughter through the agonies of possession when the Son of Man was blind and refused to see.