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20 OT A ~ "Leaving Galilee" ~ Dr. Susan McGurgan


Over the millennia,

scholars and preachers

have bent over backwards,

and twisted themselves into

pretzels

to “explain” this story.

They have entered into this passage

pushing wheelbarrows full of

sacred spackle

hoping to smooth out the

rough edges

and plaster over the cracks.


They have argued and interpreted,

rationalized and justified.

They have analyzed word etymologies

in order to place

“nicer” words

into the mouth of Jesus--

He really meant THIS!

He didn’t call her daughter

a mangy, rabid “DOG”

He called her a puppy!

Woof! Woof!

It’s cute and endearing!

hoping to put a comforting and pastoral spin

on what is truly a

bizarre conversation.


But slice it,

dice it,

close one eye and twirl around,

chant a prayer

and tie yourself into exegetical knots—

But when you stop spinning,

you will still be facing

One.

Strange.

Encounter.


Jesus left Galilee,

and entered the territory of the Gentiles.

He drew near the ancient Phoenician cities

of Tyre and Sidon—

a place of merchants

and shipbuilders

and traders in purple dye.


This was a region that had long worshipped

the goddesses Asherah, Astarte and Anath,

the healing god, Eshmun,

and more recently,

the pantheon

of Greek and Roman deities.


For Jews,

this land

and these people

were unclean.

It was the land of Jezebel,

for heaven’s sake!


These people were tainted

with the sins of idol worship

and a history of impurity.

They were a people without the Covenant,

without the Law,

without God’s blessing.

.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land,

it was with a directive from God

to destroy the Canaanites—

to cleanse the land of their idolatry,

their power,

their very presence.

By naming her as a Canaanite woman,

the Evangelist is telling us

she was someone Jesus should not even see,

much less speak to.


But Jesus left Galilee,

and entered the territory of the Gentiles.

In that unclean space,

he was accosted

by a desperate and frightened mother--

a fierce lioness

whose cub was tormented by a demon.


Jesus ignored her.

He refused to speak.

The disciples asked him to send her away.

And when she persisted,

throwing herself down

in an act of adoration and worship—

in an act,

frankly,

of last resort—

Jesus rebukes her, saying,

“It is not right to take the food of the children

and throw it to the dogs.”


Was he testing her?

Maybe…

but that seems unnecessarily cruel

and quite unlike

his other interactions with desperate people.


Was he unwilling to heal a gentile?

Maybe…

but that denies his other healing encounters

with aliens and Romans.


Did she “change his mind”

through stubborn persistence?

Maybe…

but is our God a capricious Lord,

swayed and influenced

by the loudest voice

and the most relentless cry?


I just don’t know.

I don’t know what to make of this encounter.


I only know

that in this strange and compelling story,

Jesus left Galilee,

his homeland,

his comfort zone,

his House of the Lost Sheep

and entered the land of Jezebel;

the territory of the unclean.


In this meeting,

Jesus engaged in honest dialogue

with a foreign woman,

a non-person

that a good Jewish man should just ignore.


In this moment,

Jesus experienced someone’s raw emotion—

he felt the dark fear of an

unclean,

unknown,

alien woman

poured out like lava upon him,

and ultimately,

he did not turn away.


In this encounter,

he heard her sharp and pointed response

and he did not close his ears.

He did not draw his robe tight

to avoid contamination

or command his men

to drive her away.


Jesus left Galilee,

and a single crumb of the Bread of Life

hidden under the table

became sufficient.

A single crumb,

dropped from the banquet of the children

became enough to share.

Enough to heal.

Enough to bring life and hope.


I don’t know how to parse this story

and I am not sure what to think

of our Lord’s initial silence

and his first refusal to heal her child.

But I do know this:

too often, I remain in Galilee.


Too often,

I hear the panicked voices

of unknown

unclean

strangers crawling under the table

searching for crumbs…

and I close my ears.


I don’t know how to explain his

harsh and hurtful words,

But I do know that

too often, I remain in Galilee

shutting my eyes

to anxious faces and desperate needs.


I don’t know why Jesus referenced dogs,

but I do know that too often,

I remain in Galilee,

hoarding Bread.


This Canaanite woman

had no Covenant promise to sustain her.

No Law to guide her.

No Scripture to comfort and teach her.


Yet somehow,

she found the courage

to stretch out her hands.

She raised her voice

when the world said, “Be silent.”

She endured,

when told to give up.

She disobeyed,

when men taught her to heel.


She knew that Jesus left Galilee

for a reason,

and she believed that reason

included her

and her demon-possessed daughter.

So,

she followed,

she persisted,

she found faith and healing and hope.


There will be times in our lives—

dark and desperate times

when we are so starved for help,

that we find ourselves

under the table

scrounging for crumbs.


There will be times

when our children

wrestle with illness or addiction,

and we would gladly fight their demons

barehanded and alone,

if only we could.

There are times when work will drown us

and try as we might,

we cannot rise up from our knees.

There will be times when our path

is littered with splinters and nails

and we are sent out to run in bare feet.


At these times,

remember the Canaanite Woman.

Remember the woman who didn’t obey.

Remember the woman who wouldn’t shut up.

Remember the woman who persisted

and endured

and never gave in.

Remember the woman who followed Jesus,

dropping to her knees,

believing and trusting,

despite all evidence to the contrary.


Jesus left Galilee for her.


Jesus leaves Galilee for us, too.


The Canaanite woman knew this truth:

The Bread is not hoarded.

The Bread is not scarce.

At the Banquet of Life,

even a crumb is enough.

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