She was a Canaanite, an ethnic remnant of people who once occupied the land of Israel. Joshua defeated them, but they were never forgiven for being there first.
She was a woman. She had few rights, her place was in the home, and she had no say in matters beyond. No doubt, her gender compounded the racism.
She spoke up loudly to a man in public. According to some scholars, only a prostitute would be so bold. Maybe she had that label to wear as well.
Jesus had a challenging 14th chapter in Matthew with the death of John the Baptist, walking on water, and feeding the 5,000. He had headed north for a little R&R.
Then this Canaanite woman comes bursting onto the scene. “Have pity on me, Lord, son of David,” she cries.
She was begging to have her daughter healed, but the eyes of the disciples couldn’t see a mother in distress, only an intrusive Canaanite woman who didn’t know her place.
“Send her away,” they said to Jesus, implying she had no right to be in their space — no right as a Canaanite woman better suited for red lights and closed doors.
While some argue His prejudice more evangelical than racial, Jesus tells the woman He cannot help her. She isn’t of His ilk and the food He offers is only for His own.
And yet she persisted. He, though, held His high ground and told her that He couldn’t “take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
Despite the hurt and anger roused by that analogy, she ran with it: “Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
At that moment, she was no longer a bothersome Canaanite woman, but a loving mother and tenacious believer.
At that moment, her daughter was released from her demons, but maybe she was not the only one who came away healed and whole.
Dialoguing rather than dismissing, Jesus saw the woman as a person struggling in pain and desperation. But He also saw Himself in a new light, called to all and not just those who looked like Him.
For her part, the woman was successful in relieving the torment of her daughter, which eased her soul as well. But even more, someone had acknowledged her, listened to her and treated her with the dignity and respect she deserved.
So where are the Canaanite women in our lives?