Choosing to Listen

BY KATIE LACZ | August 21, 2017
Sunday’s Readings

Sitting recently with colleagues who work as spiritual directors at a local women’s prison, we talked about the tenacity of drug addiction, how we as a society haven’t found the key to a program that would provide long-term healing for people.

“The problem is, we don’t bring people with addictions to the table for these conversations,” one said.
“We talk about them,” said another. “We don’t talk to them.”

Jesus and his disciples, as Jews living near Canaanite communities, probably had spent plenty of time with people who talked about Canaanites, their enemies since the times of the Hebrew Scriptures. In today’s Gospel, we get their first recorded encounter with “the enemy,” a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter.

When the story starts, Jesus and his disciples are fine with simply talking about this woman, even as she is directly in front of them. Even when Jesus first talks to her, it is to dismiss her and dehumanize her. But she is undeterred. (The Canaanite woman is the original “nevertheless, she persisted.”)

Through her tenacity and her creative responses to the obstacles thrown in her way, this nameless woman plays one of the most important and challenging roles in all of the Gospels: She compels Jesus to change his mind, to expand his understanding of his calling. Because she speaks, and Jesus listens, the wall between ancient enemies begins to crumble, just a little.

Especially in our climate of racial tension, a responsibility must necessarily fall on white people to listen to the stories of people of color who have been grouped as “them” rather than as individuals with individual histories. Our country’s original sin of white supremacy means that we too often still treat people of color as if they were, in the painfully vivid words of the Canaanite woman, “dogs…at the master’s table*,” picking up the scraps of the rights white people are willing to toss their way. This is not God’s desire. This is sinful.

But our God is a God of infinite creativity, using many guises to rouse us from our complacency. Can we see the Spirit in the Canaanite women of our day? What might she teach us, if we hold our tongues from our insults, work past our resistance, and choose instead to listen?  

*Matthew 15:21
3 replies
  1. Christine Wheeler
    Christine Wheeler says:

    First time I’ve heard a reflection that says Jesus dehumanized her. Very strong criticism of Jesus’s interaction. It is more likely he is bantering with her to see how she responds. The racism comparison intrigued me. Yes, people do tend see each other as groups of ‘the other’. White people aren’t the only ones who do that. Visible minorities do it to each other, depending on their status, where they live, how they live, who they associate with, etc. Segregation is not a new concept, differences have separated people for hundreds of years, even within their own communities. The world has become smaller and human beings are learning to live with and appreciate differences, not just color, or the shape of a person’s eyes but also the disabled who have shown a resiliency in how they work with and through their disabilities. One more group that are grouped as different are people born with Downs Syndrome. They have shown, given the opportunity, they can do anything.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      ^Yes. I came away with a similar reaction to the depiction of Jesus dehumanizing the woman. Could he simply have been challenging her conviction, as example to His followers? Calling it to our attention? Faith is challenged throughout holy Scriptures – because it is a message that we need to lean into, as our own faith faces challenges.
      The last paragraph is so beautifully executed! Thanks for sharing your reflection, Katie!


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