No excuses for excluding others

By Vinal Van Benthem | August 13, 2014

Jesus wanted nothing to do with the Canaanite woman. Are there people we would rather have nothing to do with?

There was a time when this question might have been answered by referring to someone’s religion or the color of their skin. Today we have laws against this kind of prejudice. Yet here we have Jesus refusing to speak to a woman based solely on her religion and country of origin.

Surely Matthew didn’t include this story in his Gospel in order to give us some kind of excuse to exclude others. Could it be that he was really encouraging the “others” among us to refuse to be excluded? True, it only took a few minutes for Jesus to recognize the great faith of the woman and change his mind about healing her daughter. But what might he have done if she had accepted “no” for an answer the first time? Would he have listened to his disciples’ advice and sent her away? (Remember, these were probably the same disciples who had advised him to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves when it appeared that they had only five loaves and two fish to feed the multitude. Jesus didn’t listen to them then, either.)

There was a time in our country when white doctors refused to treat nonwhite patients and people of color were excluded from sitting in the front of the bus or on the main floor of a movie theater. It wasn’t until the people had enough and, like the Canaanite woman in the story, refused to be excluded and decided that they would no longer take “no” for an answer that laws changed and the sickness of prejudice began to be healed. What makes our story unlike today’s Gospel, however, is that while Jesus was a Jew and the Canaanite woman a gentile, most of the people in our story claimed to be Christians …

“O woman, how great is your faith!” Are there people we would rather not have anything to do with? How do we respond to the Canaanite women in our world?

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.

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