The Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus healing people. Healing is at the core of who Jesus is and the ways God impacts the world, then and today. The stories of healing are all different because each person, each situation, each need, is different. This week’s story takes place outside the Jewish territory, where Jesus is something of an outsider. We hear that Jesus is trying to “escape notice,” but it is not possible. Though he goes into a house, he is discovered. The woman who seeks him out is, of course, not part of the Jewish community. Like most of the people in the region, she is from another faith group, another ethnicity, probably another cultural/political group as well. Jesus is the outsider here.
The woman begs Jesus to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter, and surprisingly, he tries to dismiss her. Jesus’ response is not compassionate or kind like we would expect, but flip and insulting. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Despite that, she is undeterred. Her desperation, her need for this healing, and her belief that Jesus can save her daughter are so great, the woman transforms his insult into a compelling image of the abundance Jesus brings to our hurting world. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She tells him that there is enough. His power, his ability to heal and transform the brokenness in the world is so great that even discarded bits that fall like crumbs are enough to fill her need. At this, Jesus relents and sends the woman back home where she finds her daughter fully healed.
I find it powerful that it is a woman who spars with Jesus here. I am moved by her passion and her quick reply. I am sad that Jesus’ first response is to turn away from her need since she is not in his “group.” And yet, I am grateful that we have this story where Jesus relents and expands his work to “outsiders.” This encounter reminds us that the boundaries of race, gender, culture, religion, politics, and whatever else human beings think up are not in fact a barrier to God’s transforming power. Even though sometimes it takes a moment to realize that.
She persisted. She called for action despite the disrespect Jesus showed her. Jesus’ initial response troubles me, and yet I find hope that he was moved by her response and healed the child. We see Jesus change course and open his ministry to the wider world. Perhaps the words Jesus spoke to the deaf and mute man healed in the final verses of this week’s reading were also words to Jesus himself: “Be opened.”