Jesus…suddenly finds himself in a position where, faced with this challenge, he has to make a choice. Does he stick with the tradition, thereby putting himself in the same position of hypocrisy that the he has just accused the Pharisees of, or does he admit to himself that he needs to put his money where his mouth is and acknowledge that the woman is right in the truth she is proclaiming? There is no choice really, and Jesus pronounces the faith of the Canaanite woman to be great, while instantly healing her daughter. This wise and believing Canaanite woman has caused Jesus himself to transform his thinking and to share the benefits of the messianic age with her.
If the Messiah can allow himself to be corrected and transformed, surely this gives us great hope. Imagine what our world would look like if we emulated this self-reflective behaviour and acted on it. We could transform our world, and change learnt and potentially harmful responses that perpetuate resentment and hatred to stories of grace. Jesus, with his final acceptance of the woman and his gift of healing, has set aside the learnt conventions of ethnic hatred. By doing so, he invites all us also to do the same.
I am finding it hard to resist making a chapter title or section heading in my book something like “What Jesus Learned from a Crummy Conversation with a Doggedly Insistent Syrophoenician.”
In response to Ian Paul’s post let me just say (as I will explore further in my forthcoming book) that there are certainly some problematic progressive readings as well as problematic conservative ones, but no amount of clever exegesis, in my opinion, will (or should) make Jesus’ words cease to be problematic.
Jesus’ Conversion (a lectionary reflection by Bob Cornwall) which should not be confused with this podcast:
On another woman who taught Jesus:
Finally, and most tangentially related, I recently discovered a piece in Nature by science fiction author Ted Chiang with the title “Catching Crumbs from the Table” which has an obvious allusion to the story in the Gospels.