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cathy-wall-fullcathy-headshotBy Cathy Hird

I am always careful when talking about current events. I don't want to suggest that I "know" what is right. Sometimes what I can do is offer a perspective to ponder.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Gaza and Israel. A story from this past Sunday resonates with that difficult situation. I'd like to tell you the story, but if you want to look it up, Matthew's version is in chapter 15: 21 - 28. Quotations are from the NRSV.

A bit of background. The story takes place north-west of Galilee on the coast in an area known then as the Decapolis (Ten Cities). It was gentile, urban and on relatively good terms with Rome. Neighbouring Galilee was rural and not comfortable with the Roman occupation. Relations between the two areas were tense. After a series of confrontations with religious leaders from his own community, Jesus takes some time apart in this region. Now to the story.

A woman of the Decapolis has a daughter who is very ill. Likely, she has tried all the healers among her own people. Nothing has worked. She hears that a healer from Israel is visiting in the area. As she listens to the stories about him, this woman wonders if he could heal her daughter. She decides to go and ask him to help.

This is a desperate act. Her daughter is too sick to bring to Jesus, so she will try to convince him to come to her home. But a woman does not approach a man she does not know without an introduction. A gentile woman cannot expect a Jewish man to go to her home or help her in any way. Still she goes to Jesus.

When she comes near, she can sense hostility in the people around him. She can read the anger among his followers. Need pushes her. She calls out to Jesus, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David."

The woman recognizes that she has no power in this situation. She has not been able to buy healing for her daughter. Wealthy she might be, powerful in the eyes of society she might be, but when it comes to the health of her daughter she is a supplicant. She seeks mercy.

And she acknowledges that she has no claim on Jesus. He is of the line of David, and she is not. Still, she argues that the need of her daughter demands his attention.

Jesus does not answer her. She has insulted him by approaching without an introduction. She makes him unclean in the eyes of his people. She knows that she has broken the rules, but but she keeps begging.

The disciples actively interveen. They push past her, push her out of the way, demand that Jesus get rid of her. He looks at her and names the distance between them: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Though he names the space between them, she crosses it. She kneels at his feet. Although this is an act of humility, it is an insult to his honour both in her culture and in his. But need trumps everything else for her.

Given that she has insulted him, he speaks with anger. "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

This is harsh, but he is now talking to her. He has broken the social expectation by engaging her.

She continues. "Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." She insists that Jesus look at her, listen to her, notice the suffering of her daughter.

Shocking as it is to the disciples, Jesus declares that she has strong faith. He tells her that her daughter is well. And she believes him, leaves in the confident hope that her daughter has been healed. She crossed the line, breached the barriar that kept their two peoples apart, and in response, the power of God is released and healing crosses the boundary.

This a difficult story. Some find it hard because Jesus insults a suffering woman and then seems to change his mind. For me, it seems right that this is a difficult story. When there is distance between two peoples, it is not easy to resolve it. It is hard to cross the dividing space. When someone does cross it, there is disruption and difficult emotion.

This story suggests that it is God's intention to break down the walls, break through the divisions with power to heal. For me, this story suggests that where there are walls, we are challenged to find ways to break through. Where there are chasms, we are called to build bridges. It won't be easy. There will be anger and disruption, but it is the vision we are challenged to hold.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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