Any pastor will tell you that some Gospels are difficult to preach about. I could have sidestepped today’s difficult Gospel and chosen instead to speak about the wonderful story of Joseph in Genesis, but as this story in the Old Testament is a very long one, there will be plenty of time to do that. Despite its challenging nature, I do have some things that I want to say about today’s Gospel.

First of all, while we believe that God is revealed to us in Scripture, it is important to remember that Scripture is comprised of many different kinds of books:  historical, poetry, etc., many of which are mythological rather than factual, devised to communicate a truth about God.  The Gospel accounts were written to record events in the life of Jesus, but it is essential to note that they were written in some cases many years after particular events took place and would have been influenced by the passage of time as well as the perspectives of the writers. The Epistles which also describe events in Jesus’ ministry, were written for people in particular circumstances and from various cultures and nationalities, shaping the way the letters were written.

Central to our understanding as Anglicans is Richard Hooks’ description of the three-legged stool:  tradition, Scripture, and reason. We are to apply our use of reason to our exegesis of Scripture and our understanding of tradition.

Jesus’ reaction to this desperate woman’s plea is very interesting to say the least. The truth is he doesn’t respond at all and his disciples don’t want anything to do with the woman. They tell Jesus to send her away. Then Jesus turns to the woman and says he has been sent to minister to the Jewish community “only to the lost sheep of Israel”. And as if it can’t get any worse, Jesus repeats a saying  of his day that says the pagans are nothing but dogs, and though he softens it by using the Hebrew word for puppies, it is not at all what we expect from Jesus.

Everything is wrong with this woman in terms of the relationship between Canaanite – Jewish relations: wrong gender, wrong religion, wrong nationality, and yet she spoke with conviction, she spoke with faith because she really believed that Jesus could and would heal her daughter. The commentaries have various positions on what this says about Jesus. The only one that really speaks to me is the reminder that scripture tells us that Jesus  “grew in wisdom”  the fully human part of him was not born knowing everything… he was part of a very specific culture and as we are all formed by the culture we grow up in, so was he. This woman would have been a challenge to him, a Jew, with a very specific mission and limited time to carry it out….. It is   Wow! really interesting to me that as we meet Jesus in the Gospels, we see him often being challenged by women!  and the Canaanite woman does indeed challenge him and through that interaction, he grows in wisdom. This is extraordinary, that Jesus, who after all is God, the Creator of the Universe, grows in wisdom because of his interaction with human beings.

So I am curious about this woman and who she was.  And about the many women who have followed her, in speaking up powerfully to God, and indeed to the church. I am curious about stubbornness. Not stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, but a holy persistence that knows how to keep asking for what will bring healing for others and for ourselves. I want us to keep asking, even when we are tired, or frustrated, or have to figure out who else we can ask.

This is a blessing for you (and for me) about that, inspired by someone who knew how to keep asking.

STUBBORN BLESSING, by Jan Richardson

Don’t tell me no.

I have seen you

feed the thousands,

seen miracles spill

from your hands

like water, like wine,

seen you with circles

and circles of crowds

pressed around you

and not one soul

turned away.

Don’t start with me.

I am saying

you can close the door,

but I will keep knocking.

You can go silent,

but I will keep shouting.

You can tighten the circle,

but I will trace a bigger one

around you,

around the life of my child,

who will tell you

no one surpasses a mother

for stubbornness.

I am saying

I know what you

can do with crumbs

and I am claiming mine,

every morsel and scrap

you have up your sleeve.

Unclench your hand,

your heart.

Let the scraps fall

like manna,

like mercy

for the life

of my child,

the life of

the world.

Don’t you tell me no.