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Mid-Week Encouragement (June 17): “Coming Together”

For years I have been troubled by the story in Matthew 15 about the faith of the Canaanite woman. From verse 21, there is a description of the interaction between Jesus and a Canaanite woman who has followed Him into His solitude demanding that He have mercy and heal her demon-possessed daughter. 

To me, this appears like a wonderful set-up to reveal a heroic Jesus. We have a distraught woman, seeking freedom for her beloved daughter. This should be a clear opportunity to see Jesus display compassion by healing the girl and then preaching about the love of God. The first time I read the story, I expected Jesus to immediately jump up, heal the little girl, and encourage the disciples to follow His example, even if it meant healing foreign outsiders who had opposed God’s people in the past. After all, Jesus is loving and compassionate, right?

Instead, I nearly fell off my seat when I read that Jesus responded with a prolonged silence before stating, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He even goes so far as to say that. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Surely, Jesus is not calling this woman an animal!?

What could be going on?

The Old Testament describes the Canaanites as a wicked people who were among those driven out of the Promised Land by the Israelites. Judges 1:28 even suggests that the Canaanites were subsequently forced into hard-labour. One needs to truly despise their victim to justify forced labour. Imposing this upon a whole people group though, requires dehumanisation.

Including this information into our story in Matthew 15, it is likely that we are observing an interaction between a despised slave-woman and Jesus. Certainly those present, as well as the earliest readers of this passage, would have been outraged. How could a Canaanite, a dehumanized outcast, a woman no less, barge into the presence of their Lord and begin making demands? They would have been shocked and appalled that such a person could demand the attention of Christ in such a dramatic fashion. 

Christ’s silence, at first glance, might be interpreted as indifference. Could he be ignoring this woman in order to not cause a scene? The reactions of the Disciples suggest as much as they attempt to silence the woman and cast her out, returning her back to her place. However, Christ’s silence provides the woman space to speak. His inaction creates the space for her empowerment as she asserts herself and her call for mercy. 

When Jesus does speak, I must admit it is, at first glance, disappointing.  It appears he is making an excuse not to help by asserting His purpose above hers. Is he actually saying that rules should prevent an act of mercy? It is this section of the interaction that I find most difficult. 

The Canaanite woman persists, undeterred by Jesus’s silence and disappointing reaction. The woman has stated that Jesus is, “Lord, Son of David,”.  By faith, she has proclaimed His name and is now imploring the saviour himself.  She pleads, begging Jesus to see that even the leftover crumbs from the plates of children feed dogs. What a way to ask for an end to her daughters suffering! Through persistent petition, she presented her request to the Lord. 

Did Jesus change his mind?

“Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

This story has taken on new significance for me as I have been reflecting upon the protests spreading across the globe in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Around the world, legions of people have united their voices to call for equality and justice. These voices are crying out because they are not being treated equally due to the colour of their skin. 

The #BlackLivesMatter and other protests are demanding that the social, cultural and political structures that allow racism and all of its ugly manifestations to persist be dismantled. They are demanding that people are aware of the ways that the legacy of colonialism and slavery continue to affect how people are treated today.  These voices are desperately proclaiming that the murder of George Floyd is not an anomaly but stems from the prejudice that daily inhibits millions of people with black and brown skin. Like the Canaanite woman, these voices are crying out for freedom for themselves, their communities, their friends and their families. 

As I followed reports about George Floyd and watched the subsequent spread of the protests I have been deeply, deeply saddened. Saddened that George was killed, saddened how it reveals the inequalities still present in our state systems, and especially saddened at the reactions of people unable to hear the pain or accept that racial inequality still exists. 

Reflecting on the story of the faith of the Canaanite woman has been a helpful way for me to meditate on these current issues. It has been a profound reminder that silence and inaction do not alone solve suffering but are important tools to empower the voices of those that are calling out for freedom. I have also had to repent for all the times that I have stood behind rules, expectations or ‘purpose’ to excuse myself from doing the right thing. I pray that we all have the strength to emulate our Savior as He listens before expanding his purpose to relieve the suffering of a despised mother and her young daughter. 

While these principles have helped me process the global issues of racial inequality, they are going to be equally necessary locally.  Social distancing bans may be lifted and relaxed soon, which hopefully means that we will be able to resume church sooner than later. This is great news, however, it will be important for us to all return with an extra degree of compassion. This time of separation has been intense for all of us in different ways. For some, the extra time at home has been a gift, but many others have had to process a radically different reality than pre-lockdown. Differences in race and culture, as well as age, gender, health, and financial security, will each contribute to different experiences through the pandemic. As we come together, we must be sensitive to how separation, grief and sadness affect people differently. 

As we look forward, we have a fresh opportunity to start afresh as we look to follow Jesus. As we are slowly freed to come together again, let us be intentional about the ways that we follow Jesus and strive to bring healing to a broken world. I pray that as we do this at our local level, it will translate to substantive contributions to the calls for justice from the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and other social justice initiatives. 

As we come together, let us take this opportunity to remind ourselves that our vision is; 

To be co-workers in Christ’s service, extending His invitation to every language and nation.And, to achieve this; 

Kurume Bible Fellowship is a diverse church community where our worship is earnest (Psalm 63:1), our study of the Bible is comprehensive (Romans 15:4), our fellowship is healing (1 John 1:7), and our service is sincere (1 Peter 1:22). 

I pray that in our KBF community we would use silence to listen, expand our purpose and act to bring healing to the dehumanized and suffering. May we boldly work to undermine inequalities and bring love and healing to our communities. May we begin with ourselves, lead by example, and work together to transform our world. 

I can’t wait to see what happens as we unite to bring the kingdom of heaven to this beautiful earth. 

Grace & Peace, 

Lorne Anderson
Pastoral Team


























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