We are hearing this bombshell of a Gospel in Ordinary time. But we tend to think of ordinary as events like;
Hanging out at farmer's market
Drinking that first cup of coffee on an early summer morning out in the backyard, enjoying the quiet and nature;
Having a long, lazy afternoon with no place to go and nothing to do;
Reading a story to a child, throwing a Frisbee;
Swiping at golf balls on the driving range;
Sitting on a porch swing, sipping iced tea;
Watching a fire crackle and roasting marshmallows;
Listening to the birds chirp; walking your dog; petting your cat;
A bowl of buttered popcorn and a great old movie favorite.
Can you identify? That's ordinary.
But when extraordinary events happen in ordinary time, as they do in this Gospel, what does that mean?
Could it be that the extraordinary is really the ordinary?
In all of these ordinary events just named, we feel peace and know that things are simple and right with the world.
Perhaps that is the truth of the Canaanite woman's courage in her ordinary time.
Perhaps what will give us peace and the knowledge that all is right with the world is when, in ordinary time, ordinary people have the courage to act extraordinarily?
The unnamed Canaanite woman, (aren't those Scripture women usually nameless?) was a Gentile, a member of the people who were enemies of the Jews.
She was a woman..... someone less than less, in either culture, Jew or Gentile.
But, I see her as a prophet. I'll even give her a symbolic name, "Johanna" the Baptist, whose feminine voice is crying out in the wilderness.....crying out to the man she believed had the power to heal, a man she believes is the Son of David.
If we decenter Jesus, decenter the disciples, and decenter the Canaanite woman's faith, we can see her actions and Jesus' response as central for our understanding.
Our "Johanna" was a woman of action.
She chose to approach Jesus when she saw him as he was passing through her country.
She chose to ignore the social conventions of keeping her "place" with any man, but especially with a man who was from the "enemy" of her people.
She recognized Jesus for who he was.
She believed in Jesus power to heal, without reservation.
She loved her sick child so deeply, that she would do anything to help her be healed.
She assertively initiated the conversation with Jesus.
She started shouting at him over and over, to have mercy on her.
She didn't let up. She didn't give up.
She was more concerned about her daughter's health than any social conventions of the time. (Parents, I ask you, just how loudly would you be willing to shout if you thought someone had the power to heal one of your own critically ill children? Would you care about cultural rules prohibiting you from finding and using your voice?)
Our "Johanna" kept shouting, despite the disciples' attempts to silence her.
She kept shouting, making a spectacle of herself, drawing attention to her plight, even though Jesus just ignored her.
She listened to him tell his disciple that he refused to even acknowledge her presence by dismissing her because it wasn't part of his "mission," as he understood it.
Our "Johanna" reverenced Jesus, despite his indifference and deliberate ignoring of her pleas for mercy.
She was not put off by his negativity toward her.
She didn't react with hurt or embarrassment or anger or shame.
She just became stronger in her endeavor to get through to him.
She didn't go away. This ordinary woman behaved extraordinarily.
She planted herself squarely in front of him, kneeling at his feet, right in his way, unavoidably in his path, blocking his ability to walk forward.
She became a stumbling block for Jesus.
She stopped him in his tracks.
She challenged Jesus' own understanding of his mission.
She asked for his help.
Up until that point, Jesus completely marginalized the Canaanite woman.
But she, our newly christened "Johanna," is the center of the action, not on the margin of it.
She is the action.
After all her persistence, Jesus finally tossed a rationalized answer to her justifying why he shouldn't listen to her. The reason? It wasn't fair to the children of God, the Jews.
She, undeterred, immediately fires back an alternative viewpoint, directly challenging the injustice of Jesus' claim. She was more prophetically obedient to his message than he was himself at that point.
This is not a conversation; this is a conversion!!
Jesus is a fully human person in this story....a stubborn man, who thinks he has the answers, if you will.
He thinks he "knows" his mission.
He limits his actions because of his undeveloped understanding of his mission.
Jesus stubbornly resisted our "Johanna," the Canaanite woman, by justifying that she was not worthy of his attention, after pointedly ignoring her pleas, and then rationalizing to the disciples, his ignoring and refusal to deal with her.
Jesus relented, only after he expressed all this negativity. In the end what persuaded him was her continued refusal to take "no" for an answer. He recognized her faith. It was her faith that was the catalyst for Jesus' own conversion.
This Gospel is not about what he does for her but what she does for him.
She holds his feet to the fire.
She holds him accountable for living the message he is preaching.
She "acts out" and transgresses all established boundaries in pursuing what she "knows" to be true; that Jesus' mission is for all, not just the Jews. (We could call this, causing scandal, I think.)
The unnamed Canaanite woman is legion, in Christian history and today.
She is the many women in the church who are today as in the past, standing in the road, reverencing their faith, but challenging the recalcitrant, myopic, undeveloped thinking of the institution that professes to represent Jesus on earth. When you think about it, it does represent Jesus well...but it is the unconverted Jesus that they resemble in persona!
The stubborn, unyielding, "I have the answers" Jesus.
The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church today is no less obstinate to the pleas of women than Jesus was to the pleas of the Canaanite woman.
And women today
shouting to be heard, persisting despite being ignored,
standing in the path of the reluctant church,
refusing to be ignored, refusing to be excluded, refusing to go away,
refusing to accept unjust rationalizations for their exclusion,
are stumbling blocks to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, which is just as much in need of conversion as Jesus was.
Like the Canaanite woman, women and men today are challenging the church with their pleas for inclusivity.* They are the catalysts for the church's conversion.
Jesus finally listened.
Jesus experienced conversion.
Jesus changed his mind.
Jesus learned from the Canaanite woman that his mission was far more than he had realized. His mission was to the world. It was inclusive.
We pray today that the Roman Catholic Church will do no less.
We pray today that the Roman Catholic Church will say with Jesus, "Women, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
*Who are the stumbling blocks for the RC church today, the catalysts for the church's conversion? The RCWP and all who stand with them, excommunicated for answering their call in prophetic obedience; Fr. Marek Bozek; Fr. Paul Stanoz, just silenced by Archbishop Timothy Dolan from speaking at Voice of the Faithful in Fall of '08; Sr. Louise Lears, under interdict by Archbishop Burke for attending and ordination of women; Rosemary Radford Ruether silenced for speaking truth to power; Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, for speaking truth about the bishops' complicity and the institutional culture of coverup regarding the sexual abuse crimes; and many more.
To ponder: Who is the stumbling block in each of our lives, calling each of our hearts to conversion? Are we open to conversion? Are we humble enough to change our minds, when we are challenged to live Jesus?