Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28 (NRSV)
Verse 10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: Verse 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles." Verse 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" Verse 13He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Verse 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit." Verse 15But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us." Verse 16Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Verse 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? Verse 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. Verse 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. Verse 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."
Verse 21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Verse 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." Verse 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." Verse 24He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Verse 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." Verse 26He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Verse 27She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Verse 28Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
I work with congregational leaders—pastors, deacons, and lay leaders—in and around Minneapolis. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May of this year while in police custody has heightened the awareness of systemic racism and the daily injustices felt by black, indigenous, and people of color. We know it is important to say his name: George Floyd. We do not know the name of the Canaanite woman in this story. We do know she is not one of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Animosity and unjust treatment towards the Canaanites parallels racism today. Nevertheless, this unnamed woman, willing to eat only the breadcrumbs of life offered by Jesus, changes the course of Jesus’ ministry. After this encounter, Jesus’ calling expands from the lost sheep of Israel to all nations. The ministry of Jesus knows no boundaries. As followers of Jesus, what boundaries are we being challenged to cross?
Dear God of all, open my heart, eyes, and ears so I can work with others to root out injustices. Strengthen my faith and resolve, so like the unnamed Canaanite woman, my pleading and persistence might bring healing for others. Amen.