A Place At the Table

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon, which were known as Pagan cities along the Mediterranean.
Gentile cities.
So for them, they’re basically in the red light district of regions.
And along the way a Canaanite woman cries out for him as they walk by.
Now if you’ll remember, Canaanites were known to be the lowest of low and were scorned by the Israelites.
And despite this history of antagonism by the Israelites
she cries out
Even though she is a Gentile
she cries out
Even though she is a Canaanite.
she cries out
Even though she is a woman
she cries out
She doesn’t let this stop her.
She cries out

Her child, as she explains, is being tormented by a demon and she will stop at nothing to get an audience with this man,
This man who, even though she is a Gentile, she claims as Lord, Son of David.
Somehow she knows this man is different.
Somehow she knows he is able to understand things other Jewish men would not
Somehow she knows there is a chance he could heal her child.
Or relieve the torment.
Sounds like faith, doesn’t it?

And you don’t need me to tell you how a parent of a sick child will stop at nothing to get relief for that child.
We’re talking
walking through fire
coming to blows
risking everything and anything to get the child the help he or she needs.
It’s instinct

So with faith combined with passionate desire
There is no stopping this woman
She is willing to take a risk
to step out
and in total desperation
drop to her knees and beg for her daughter

She knows it doesn’t make sense
She knows that
because of her position
because of her class
she’s relegated to the margins
she isn’t entitled to an audience with this man
or any man for that matter
She isn’t worthy of acknowledgment
but she’s desperate
She has nothing to lose

So she goes for it.

And yet, and here is where it’s really hard for us
Jesus ignores her.
he dismisses her

Have you ever felt like your prayers weren’t being answered?
Have you ever felt like you weren’t receiving the blessings that you desperate need?

So she persists
She won’t be silenced
She won’t be cast aside

History is filled with stories of men and women just like this Canaanite woman
Who despite their position
fought for their place at the table.

In the 1890s a escaped slave from Maryland moved to New York and dazzled the world with his oratory skills and intellect, overturning existing notions of his race. Frederick Douglass fought tirelessly for the equal rights of all citizens- black, female, Native American, immigrant and eventually became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States.

A young Quaker woman in the early 20th century knew in her heart that, despite being a woman, her voice should be heard. Along with many other women fighting for equal rights, Susan B. Anthony became known for her contribution to women’s right to vote. A right which was finally honored in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.

In December 1, 1955 a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus because she knew in her heart that she needed to be there.

There are many examples of men and women like these
too many to count
but because of their courage and persistence
because they fought for their place at the table, we all benefited
Our children
our neighbors
Our friends
Our communities
We all benefited.

But it sure as heck wasn’t easy

But it was their innate knowledge and deep understanding that we are all created in the image of God
that prompted them to shout out from the sidelines
To claim their voice
Just like the Canaanite woman in this story.

So just like them
we shout out as well
We claim our voices
Just like the psalmists who cry out for God to hear us
to see us
we too cry out
For God to answer our prayers.

Perhaps the Gospel writers were just as moved by the tenacity and passion of the Canaanite woman, and were inspired to use this encounter as a teaching moment for hearers.
to show us that in spite of our perception of our worthiness
God will hear our prayers.

Maybe he co-opts their language of dismissal
and enters into this tit for tat with her
and in doing so lifts up or highlights
the courage of the woman to fight for her faith.
And when she does
he responds,
O woman, great is your faith.
and he answers her prayer.
he heals her daughter.

Maybe Jesus wanted us to see that when it comes to asking for what’s desperately needed, being merely nice sometimes won’t cut it.
Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering.
Sometimes we need to boldly ask God for what we need.

Poet Jan Richardson wrote of this story in her poem, Stubborn Blessing.
I think it captures the essence of the passage. She writes,

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.

Perhaps this is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn here.
That we should become the Canaanite woman
And plea for our place at the table

So just like her, we are to cry out
cry out for others who are experiencing demons in their lives. 
cry out for justice, for peace, for healing. 

After all, this is our Christian vocation
Not just to lift up our own prayers, but
to side with those on the margins
and become their voice as well.

And this is what we do every Sunday when we gather her for worship.
We intercede for those who long for healing and hope
we pray for those who feel hopeless and helpless in a world that seems so disrupted
We pray for those who might feel like they’re on the outside
and we, like the Canaanite woman, persist for their sake
We pray for not just our children
but for all children

Because God hears our prayers.
In 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul implores us to “pray without ceasing” (5:17) and we should!
why bother if we don’t believe God will answer our prayers?
Why petition God if it’s futile?
Maybe in this story, Jesus is showing us it is not futile.
that we might be perceived as lowly by others
that the world might have cast us aside
and we might believe that our voices have been silenced
But God hears us
and we

It might seem impossible.
It might seem a reach
but be bold.

Believe that Jesus is still in the business of working miracles, changing lives, and ushering in the reconciliation of this world.

So come to the table.
all of you
Hold out your hands for these crumbs
these sacred crumbs
the same crumbs the Canaanite woman begged for
and experience the life-changing power they offer

This is the body of Christ, given for you
For YOU.
A morsel and sip are enough, yes more than enough, at Jesus’ table.

Because when we come to Jesus’ table
we are healed
we are liberated from whatever ails us
It is Christ who makes us worthy
Christ alone

And with this worthiness
we are sent out

renewed and recharged
to speak out
To proclaim the kingdom where outcasts are now able to be examples of faith and tenacity and compassion and bravery
Where all are welcome at the table.

And thanks be to God for that.


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