It is always interesting to see Jesus being tough on someone. For so many of us Jesus is a nice, gentle, forever merciful person. So many of us do not bother to go beyond our acceptance of the stereotypical Jesus of the sweet holy card art. So many of us gloss over the parts of the Jesus story that show Him exercising His Father's Justice and living out His Father's decisions. So often we forget that Jesus had been taught The Law by his parents. They were Temple People. His Uncle Zechariah was a priest and Jesus' mother was close to the family. Remember Elizabeth? Jesus also knew the Writings and the Prophets. He knew who the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were. He knew who the descendants of Cain, Ham, Ishmael and Esau were. He knew it much more than we do.
When we hear Canaanite, Edomite, Amorite, Samaritan we, if we have any idea, think of a corner of the world. A region. We relate to Canadians, Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese, English and French as coming from somewhere.
When Jesus saw Canaanites, Edomites, Amorites, Jebusites and Samaritans He related to them as coming from someone. That's who the Canaanite woman is. She comes from Ham, who came from Noah, who came from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Jesus did not even have to look it up in Google. Jesus knew that Ham was a pariah son for having disrespected his father and invited his brothers to do the same. [Gen. 9; 18 ff] Ham was then cursed, personally as well as in his descendants, as Cain had been after his crime. The Canaanite woman then, as so many others whom Jesus meets along the way, are the fruit of those who sinned and turned away from the righteousness of God. Jesus, and his followers, know who they are from whom they come. They knew that these were not the people of Moses. They knew that these were not the people who were the children of those who suffered in Egypt for 400 years and walked through the desert for 40 more. No. These were the people who were alive only because God had cut them some slack, big slack. They were in the Promised Land because they, or their forebears had survived the onslaught of the Chosen People who were conquering the land in the name of God and His promise to His people.
Jesus then has a moment, and there are many in the Gospel, when He reminds His People that His Mission is to them. That's priority red. Then, after the strong words fail to weaken the woman, comes the BIG lesson. "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done as you wish." Faith. Faith in a son of Shem, the good and respectful brother of Ham. Faith in a son of David. Faith in the Son of God, the Messiah, who is not afraid to get outside of His "comfort zone" to bring comfort and solace to everyone, no matter from whom they come.
Jesus did not follow the advice of His disciples to "send her away." He had something to say to them, and He was going to make sure that they not only heard it, but would see it too. He knew that she had to be undergoing strong inner turmoil because her people, her brothers and sisters from Ham, must have been emotionally disturbed by her outrageous behavior before this Jew. The cultural clash contributes to the power of this story. At the reading of the first words out of the mouth of Jesus, we can easily jump to the conclusion that this is a die-hard "red neck." The full story shows us that like His Father, Jesus is at the command of the needs of everyone. In this story we have the introduction to the "Servant King" with the towel around His waist.
Finally, there is something very important about the life of Jesus. It is something about which we do not think enough. It is the fact that Galilee, then as now, was not a very deeply religious region of the Promised Land. It was, and is, a region of commerce, a region of economic stability, a region of ethnic and national diversity. It was, and is to this day, a region that is not appreciated by the true, deeply religious Jew. It is the region where secular action takes place. It is the region of political dialectics. Strength versus strength, weakness against weakness, all mixed in with ideologies, religions, politics and economics. Look at the map. You'll get an idea. Then look at a New Testament map, and you'll see the connection. Jesus lived and preached at least 80 percent of His life in the Galilee. It is 100 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is at least one day's walk from Capharnaum to Tyre and Sidon. Was Jesus going to the beach? He had it right there in Galilee. He and His disciples had reasons to go there. It is an area where fishing was an important part of the economy. So He and His "buddies" were going "fishing." Along the way, He "caught the big one." It does not seem to be recorded what His professional fishermen friends thought about the "catch."
So, what do you say? Care to go fishing? That's not what Jesus says. He says, "Go fishing. Throw your net over all oceans. Take everything you catch on board and bring it to me."
By the way, no need to dry at my funeral. I've gone fishing.