God Talk by Kathleen MacInnis Kichline

Canaanite Woman
08/20/2014  Kathleen MacInnis Kichline

Canaanite Woman  Canaanite Woman

There are only four times in Matthew’s Gospel when he chooses to use the phrase, “Jesus withdrew.”  The first time Jesus withdrew is shortly after the temptation in the desert (4:12), “Now when he heard that John had been taken into custody, he withdrew into Galilee.”  Later in chapter 12, Matthew writes, “The Pharisees considered together how they might destroy him.  Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”  The third time Jesus withdrew is again when he gets news of his cousin, John, “When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place by himself.” (Mt 14:13)  Today’s Gospel again opens with that phrase, “At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”  What had preceded this action is an encounter with the Pharisees after which the disciples, in a kind of role reversal, come to him to give him advice and say, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”  Again, he withdrew. 

Jesus, then, withdraws at strategic moments, moments when he is confronted, externally and internally, with great conflict and when he is faced with deciding what to do next.  They are times of emotional turmoil as he sees both John’s rejection and his own ministry not being received.  All of this is lost when we just pick up with the phrase, “At that time, Jesus withdrew…”  Jesus is not just withdrawing in the sense of closing the door, taking the phone off hook, turning over the “Do Not Disturb” sign.  The fate of John the Baptist severely saddens him and terribly rattles him.  The animosity and hatred with which his teaching is received also not only saddens him, it profoundly shakes him.  Clearly, the path he has been pursuing needs to be reevaluated.  It is not working.  It is not working as one would have hoped.

In withdrawing to Tyre and Sidon, he is not getting out for some air, taking a walk around the block, or even into the hills. The city of Tyre, the nearer of the two, is about 30 miles from Capernaum.  Sidon is another 20 miles beyond that.  On foot in the company of his disciples, it would be two to three days of walking to get there.  Plus Tyre and Sidon are as far, philosophically, as a Jew can get from his own land and culture.  It is the land of the infamous princess, Jezebel, who brought idolatry to Israel corrupted King Ahab, and persecuted the prophet Elijah.  Jesus is in foreign territory.

Yet even here, he is known.  And his reputation brings him some unwanted attention from a foreign woman.  Mark refers to her as the Syro-Phoenician  woman and Matthew uses the more ancient, Hebraic term, Canaanite.  But she has clearly come from her home for the purpose of seeking out Jesus.  Both Jesus and the woman have left what they call home.  Both are seeking answers, are on a mission.  Each one is driven by concern for someone they love—the people of Israel, a sick child.  Both have come here hoping to receive what they need.  Jesus needs clarity about his purpose and mission.  The woman needs health and healing for her daughter.  They are on a collision course that will change them both.  Hollywood could not have done it better than Matthew.  Each has a back story unknown to the other and each needs the other in ways yet to be revealed.

Their initial encounter does not go well.  The woman calls out clearly her need but “Jesus does not say a word to her.”  Is he preoccupied? ...
Who We Are: SISTERS IN SCRIPTURE began with bible studies for women. Scripture was the perfect place to start for it is there that we encounter God’s story and it is there that, wonder of wonders, we discover our own story as well. A holy conversation begins that draws us into an ever widening circle, a circle with God at the center.
Kathleen speaking at the Spring Tea hosted by FCCW at All Saints Parish, Puyallup, WA

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