Fightin’ Words: the Canaanite Woman

I have always had a love for this Gospel narrative, but it is a love that has become more firmly rooted and grown greater with further exploration and its paired lectionary scriptures this morning.

The Gospel begins with Jesus teaching a lesson that was essential in the biblical Ancient Near East (ANE), but it remains essential in our own time and place as highlighted with the current social unrest regarding the worth of human life despite race, ethnicity, or nationality; age; gender, gender identity, or sexuality; socio-economics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; or otherwise.

Jesus teaches that it is not about adhering to a purity code concerned with the food one consumes, their personal hygiene practiced, or who one has interactions.

But, with that said, please continue to practice personal hygiene, social distancing, and other COVID19 precautions.

Jesus teaches, instead, that one is defiled or “unclean” through the sins rooted in our heart such as:

  • manipulation and evil intentions;
  • causing harm to one in mind, body, or soul;
  • being lustful or unfaithful;
  • desiring or taking what belongs to another; and
  • speaking falsely.

Although included in the Ten Commandments, these are not included in the purity code.

Immediately afterwards, Jesus seemingly flirts with not practicing what he preaches.

A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and the disciples begging for him to heal her demonic daughter. This woman had at least three strikes against her:

  1. She was a woman;
  2. She was a Canaanite, a non-Israelite foreigner; and
  3. She was a Gentile, a pork-eating Pagan.

However, she apparently trusted in Jesus’ divine ability to heal. She apparently understood social expectations and perhaps Israelite history, for she addresses Jesus as ‘Lord, Son of David’. David, the infamous Israelite King, had three Canaanite women as ancestors: Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth.

Jesus bluntly ignored her.
She persisted.

The disciples become annoyed and asked Jesus to send her away.
She persisted.

Jesus answers her “I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.
She persisted.

At least he acknowledged her, she drops to her knees at his feet and desperately begs for the sake of her daughter.

Jesus answers, “it would not be fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. Honestly, Jesus sounds like a jerk.
Nevertheless, she persisted.

Throughout scriptures, whether the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, dogs are scavengers to be avoided and kept outside of the city gates; thus, a term used for the unworthy, the inferior, and the unclean.

But, within this Gospel narrative alone, Jesus uses another Greek term for “dog”. It is actually “puppy”. The Greco-Roman culture, perhaps including the Canaanites, had household companion pets; however, these were almost certainly not as spoiled as the Highlander and Valkyrie.

Our Canaanite woman seems to have understood Jesus’ word choice.

I envision her conflicted with annoyance, anger, and hope.

I envision her standing up and embracing her feisty, that is spirited and courageous, sass.

She responds “I might be a puppy, but puppies still get crumbs AND all I want is ONE LITTLE CRUMB”.

These were fightin’ words.

But her faith, or trust, in Christ and her persistence was effective.
Jesus heals her daughter.

The Gospel of Matthew has a reputation of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah sent to the Jewish people alone, but it also has significant moments of Jesus ever-expanding those included among God’s people. In fact, this Gospel narrative arguably is situated as a pivotal transition from an emphasis on the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ towards the Great Commission of “all nations (or peoples)”.

And yet, our Gospel narrative is rooted in Hebrew scriptures.

  • Isaiah foretells of the day when the House of the Lord will be a House of Prayer for ALL People.
  • Isaiah describes God as the one who gathers the outcasts of Israel and “others” together.

These were fighin’ words.

  • The Psalm might have been used as a worship hymn rooted in blessings requested and those received.
  • The Psalm is rooted in the idea that the Israelites were blessed not for their own sake, but rather the Israelites are blessed to be a blessing to ALL people.
  • The Psalm has a refrain
    “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let ALL the peoples praise you.”

These were fightin’ words.

Then the Apostle Paul continues the conversation in his letter to the Romans, replying to the question: ‘if God has extended grace to uncircumcised, pork-eating Pagan Gentiles, has God rejected the Israelites?

Paul was astonished and responds:

“REALLY? You’ve got to be KIDDING! Absolutely NOT!
God ALWAYS keeps divine promises!”

He continues to write that this inclusion of all persons and its diversity is a divine gift for building up the body of Christ, the church universal; and thus, bringing forth the Kingdom of God to Come.

These were fightin’ words.

Unfortunately, this idea of “radical” inclusion continues to be fightin’ words.

Unfortunately, humanity continues to be infected with sin in our hearts and souls, that manifests as:

  • manipulation and evil intentions;
  • causing harm to one in body, mind, and soul;
  • being lustful or unfaithful;
  • desiring or taking what belong to another;
  • and speaking falsely.

Unfortunately, persons and communities continue to de-value difference and diversity, rather than embracing it as the divine gift that it is for our sake as the body of Christ within the church universal, for the sake of our communities and the peoples, and for the sake of bringing forth the Kingdom of God to Come.

In a moment, we will all be the Canaanite woman begging at Jesus’ table for one little crumb and one little sip of God’s divine grace in compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.

May it cleanse our hearts, our souls, and our lives.
May it incite fightin’ words for the sake of our neighbors & their ‘radical’ inclusion.
May it strengthen our resolve to our baptismal vocations:

  • proclaiming Christ in word and deed;
  • seeking justice;
  • acting with compassion and mercy; and
  • loving and serving ALL people, but especially our most vulnerable siblings.

May we be that feisty, persistent Canaanite woman.


Scriptures were Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; and Matthew 15: 10-28.
Originally preached on 16 August 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).

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