21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Can We Change?
August 20, 2023 – The Congregational Church of Easton
Jesus tells the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” In the Palestine of Jesus’ day bread was scarce. You wouldn’t throw it away. And dogs weren’t the well-groomed pets that we are used to. Almost all of them were scrawny, roaming about, sifting and sniffing through rubbish, and on the lookout for food to steal.
So Jesus is insulting this pesty foreigner who won’t leave him alone. He’s comparing her to one of those dirty, flea-bitten curs when he says, “It [isn’t] right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.
The woman, though, is desperate. Her child is suffering terribly. The child is mentally ill. We don’t know whether she suffered from epileptic seizures, or frightening delusions, or what — but the child is suffering.
So her mother persists. She kneels before Jesus and says, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And what does Jesus do? He changes! He changes His mind! Jesus fully believed that he was sent to the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel. The Canaanite woman’s faith broke through the legalistic barriers of the religion of His time and place. As one commentator puts it:
Jesus affirms that his faith is not the narrow faith found in much of “organized religion.” instead it is a faith put into practice by meeting the needs of all, each in their own unique circumstances! it is this faith which constitutes the heart and soul of our faith in this remarkable man, Jesus of Nazareth!
Jesus changes. In the first centuries of Christianity there were vigorous debates about whether Jesus was fully human, as well as divine. One of the oldest Christian heresies, the Docetists, believed that Christ did not have a real or natural body during his life on earth but only an apparent or phantom one. This story says that Jesus truly IS fully human, because like you and me, he is capable of changing his mind.
His encounter with the Canaanite woman was a ‘teachable moment’ for him. Jesus needed to be taught, and she was his teacher. Jesus was the one who needed to be taught. And the Canaanite woman was the vessel for this powerful teaching.
He learns that God’s kingdom and his mission to enact that kingdom is bigger than he had initially thought and that it is more encompassing that he’d at first imagined. This tenacious and faithful woman, a complete stranger, pushed Jesus to reconsider, to learn, and to grow.
How about you and me? Are we to learn to see Jesus in a new light — as one who could be changed — and so therefore we can, too?
As another commentator put it:
Let Jesus be our exemplar: we must dare to let our outlooks be changed too. We must dare to truly engage with the world and let life’s encounters work with what we know of God and so shape our living and understanding.
The same is true for you as a congregation. You must dare to let your outlooks be changed. Like Jesus, you must be willing to learn. And if you want to learn, you first need to listen. Once you’ve listened, you need to be open to changing how you nurture worship and congregational life in a way that is meaningful not only to you “regulars” but also to the folks who aren’t coming, or who used to come, or who might come. (And who knows, if we construct worship that is interesting and meaningful to them, it might even be more interesting and meaningful to us as well!)
The first step is to listen. Here’s a proposal: Have the Deacons put together a list of people who aren’t coming; add those who used to come, and then brainstorm people you know who might come to worship. Put together a sign-up sheet and ask everyone to choose three people to contact during the next two weeks. If possible, have coffee or a meal with each of them.
During your discussion, ask the person how worship would have to change and how congregational life could change to make it attractive for the person to come to worship and get involved in the life of the church. Type up your notes and send them to me. I’m good at organizing information like this into themes. I used to make my living as an organization effectiveness consultant helping groups like you collect information and make decisions about what to change.
I’ll take the notes you took during your meetings organize them into themes and give the suggestions for change to the Vision committee to discuss and decide on next steps for change. Then, I’ll help you construct worship that is more interesting and meaningful to the people you talked with. The final step will be for you to get back to them and tell them how you are changing things. Invite the people you talked with to come to worship and check it out.
Let us pray. Holy One, Just as Jesus listened to the Canaanite woman and changed his mind to extend his ministry beyond the regular crowd, empower this congregation to listen and make changes to extend our ministry to a broader group of people whom we invite to join us.