I was thinking about this past Sunday’s gospel reading, and found this reflection on the Sojourner’s Magazine website. Would that we all would be willing to embrace truth, even if it means admitting we’ve been wrong.
An Indigenous woman asks Jesus to help her child, and he calls the woman a dog (Matthew 15:21-28).
Various scholars and homilists have attempted to make this story nice—for example, Jesus was testing the woman because he recognized her strength of character; the two engaged in a mutual exercise of role-playing to teach the disciples a lesson; the exchange was playful and the dogs in question were puppies and pets. To me, these are weak arguments. The story is powerful, but it is not nice—“dog” is an insult to a woman who is racialized and colonized, and it is Jesus, not the disciples, doing the insulting.
Whether it is due to desperation, absolute focus on her child, or some deep integrity and wholeness, the woman is not shamed; indeed, she acts shamelessly by engaging Jesus in a public contest of wit. Unlike his many similar exchanges with scribes, Pharisees, and leaders, Jesus is not the winner. The doubly marginalized Canaanite woman has the last, and best, word.
This is a profound challenge to the gender-based honor/shame system—a shameless woman is honored and Jesus is apparently shamed. Rather than slinking offstage or mounting a counterattack, Jesus broadens his understanding of who the kingdom is for and honors his opponent: “Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28).
BTW, Jim Wallis will be coming to speak at UDM on Thursday, Sept. 18. It’s free and open to the public, so if you can make it to Detroit that day, you’ll be in for a real treat.