Who can ponder the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel without being flabbergasted at Jesus’ bigotry. He calls the woman a dog! All the explanations I have seen for why he does this fall way flat. Is he testing her? What good purpose does it ever serve to make somebody feel less than human?
So I am left with the image of a prejudiced savior.
This story deeply affected my Christology. It made me realize that God incarnate in the form of Jesus truly was limited by First Century understandings. As the second Person of the Trinity, he might have had a pipeline to God, but he was locked in a human body and human brain nonetheless. He believed that other peoples — non-Jewish peoples — were not worth his effort.
However, and here’s the crux of the story for me, he listened — deeply. That was his gift to everyone with whom he came in contact. He opened himself and listened with his heart. How else could he communicate his lessons?
This level of listening is, for me, the sign of Jesus’ divinity. Only God listens so well. He allowed the Canaanite to speak to him and he listened to what she had to say. He allowed himself to be astounded by it and to learn — and he made the change at lightning speed.
For the sake of her daughter the Canaanite woman took on the epitaph of “dog”. And then she professed to Jesus that she understood that just the merest crumbs of his power would be enough for her. Even that little bit would be all she and her daughter needed.
He saw her then as a woman, not as a dog. “Woman,” he addressed her. He saw her faith — the spiritual understanding of a foreigner who worshiped other gods. “Great is your faith!” he exclaimed. He took all that in way quicker than anybody I know could have done. In the space it took to utter a few sentences, he went from ignoring this woman totally to understanding her completely. Out of that profound understanding came the healing of God.
The risen Christ is no longer limited by the human body and brain. All hearts are open to his compassionate understanding, this I understand. But that First Century moment he had where he listened to the foreigner and was taught by her stands out for me as a way through my own racism and bigotry. I need to listen deeply, listen with my heart, listen to the life in front of me, no matter what strange (from my perspective) form it takes. This listening is what will awaken me and heal me from my limited vision. It will allow me to channel the profound mercy and healing of God — as Jesus did.