A mother and her daughter

This is number 3 in a series of reflections about Gospel women, many of them un-named, and an appreciation of feminine imagery and experiences that are prominent in many of the stories Jesus told. 

Jesus grew up in a culture where the adult Jewish male thanked God each day in prayer “that thou hast not made me a gentile, nor a woman, nor an ignorant man”. Then he met a woman who ticked two of the three no-goes. Not only was she a woman, hardly worthy of being known by name, but she was Greek by birth, a Canaanite by religion, living in a seaside town in a part of the world we know as Lebanon.

It begins as a mother and daughter story. The daughter suffered from some kind of disability, the kind that at the time was described as being ‘tormented by a devil’. The mother, like mothers the world over, then and now, was frantic that her daughter was be able to live a normal, healthy life the same as other girls her age.  In a careful reading of Matthew 15: 21-28, this mum comes across as a risk-taker, strong enough to cope with rejection and hostility, a smart talker, witty, and very determined.

In the way news travels through a small town, she’d heard rumours about a visiting Jewish preacher, someone who had healing powers. She tailed him through the town, making a nuisance of herself and annoying his already disgruntled little band of followers who were looking for a bit of R and R.  Jesus ignored her.

Even though the woman was careful to address Jesus as “Lord”, and even knelt before him to make her plea for mercy, Jesus gave her the silent treatment.

As an Israelite male Jesus was not obliged to even recognise this pagan woman. The disciples, used to his usual counter-cultural approach to other women, Jewish women, and  fed-up with this persistently annoying woman, suggested he give her what she wanted anyway.  

Instead he insults her, referring to her as a dog, and offense in every language, even today. And she retaliates. “Ah yes, Lord. But even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table. “

Something happened then, something deep in Jesus moved, changed. “Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted.” It was a turning point in Jesus’ life, a growth marker. In an instant his ministry moved beyond Judaism and encompassed the whole world.  He would never forget that it was a pagan woman’s faith that called him to move into a place where he saw his life and the will of his Father from a totally different aspect.

That gutsy Canaanite woman who had humiliated herself for love of her daughter, would never have known that her words and her faith would echo down through the ages her story giving counyless women inspiration and strength to follow their God-given instincts.  Now, more than ever, women like her are questioning and even breaking religious and cultural taboos that prefer them to walk in the shadow of an authoritarian male leadership.

Through every avenue available in a supremely audio-visual world, women need to talk persistently, calmly, and sometimes passionately, about the things in Christianity that challenge and disturb them. Hopefully their faith will shatter a few more taboos.

Judith   ( judith@judithscullu.com.au)

3 Replies to “A mother and her daughter”

  1. I have always loved the Canaanite woman. I love that she was sassy enough not to be put down even by Jesus’s.

  2. Thank you Judith for another thought provoking article. You have inspired me to look at how women are portrayed in the Bible. Your insights are very helpful. The Canaanite woman was indeed courageous! We certainly need gutsy women in the Church today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: