Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
August 16, 2020
“Thank God for Nasty Women”
Matthew 15: 21-28 – Common English Bible
From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all.
His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”
24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”
26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”
27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”
28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.
Big surprise. A bunch of men annoyed by a woman asserting herself. She’s aggressive. Difficult. Bossy. Jesus, she won’t listen to us. So, you tell her to shut up.
A centuries old tactic. She’s a nasty woman. Too ambitious. Angry. Emotional. How many times have women been told they speak with a shrill voice like an angry school teacher scolding her students? Or, here’s a new one, sounds like Marge Simpson. Called the most meanest, most horrible, most disrespectable woman ever – because she dares take up space in the world.
The fact that this particular gospel story was assigned in the lectionary (readings for every Sunday set back in 1974); the fact that this story was assigned for today is amusing. We’re a few days away from the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the constitution providing angry, nasty, too ambitious white women with the right to vote. It’s an event to rightfully celebrate, as long as we acknowledge that women of color were sold down the river to achieve that right.
It wasn’t until 1947 that all Native Americans could vote.
It wasn’t until 1952 that all people of Asian descent could be granted citizenship, and therefore the right to vote.
And of course, 1965 when all African Americans could vote without literacy tests and poll taxes and other suppression tactics. That is until new suppression tactics could be invented, such as requiring photo IDs.
And it wasn’t until 1975 that so-called language minorities could ask for ballots in their own language, thereby fully enfranchising Spanish speaking citizens and other voters.
It is doubly amusing, or perhaps providential, that the gospel story of the aggressive, difficult, bossy Canaanite woman was assigned for today, given that just a few days ago the first woman of color, a daughter of immigrants, was named a major party vice-presidential candidate. Cue up another round of birtherism. Cue the sexism. Eric Trump tweeted that Kamala Harris was a “whorendous pick,” spelled with a “w,” as in, she’s a whore. It makes nasty sound like a compliment, which of course it actually is.
Bur first, who was this Canaanite woman? In her book African Women in the Bible, LaVerne McCain Gill reminds us that the Canaanite woman is of African descent, and is in a line with other African women in the Bible whose story expands the limits placed on who is included, among others, Hagar and the Queen of Sheba. The Hebrew’s first convert is a Canaanite woman named Rahab. Jesus has a Canaanite great-grandma in his own ancestral line, ten to 20 generations ago… But sometimes we forget where we came from. However, more than forgetting where he came from, Jesus forgot his manners. He compared this nameless Canaanite woman to a dog under the table.
The fact that the disciples were dismissive of the woman is not surprising. Disappointing but not surprising. The fact that Jesus not only ignored, then dismissed, and then degraded the woman is not just disappointing but shocking. This is not what we expect of a Jesus we associate with compassion and kindness.
Some commentators say that Jesus acted this way to shock his disciples. That he intended this to get their attention. It seems kind of cruel to use the woman in such a way.
I agree with others who suggest that the meaning of this text is that even Jesus has bias, and when confronted, can be changed. Jesus can grow in understanding and wisdom. Although, what does that say about those who are dehumanized so he can learn a lesson?
We can start with the labels we use. She wasn’t being aggressive. She was being assertive. She wasn’t being difficult. She just kept asking hard questions. She wasn’t being bossy. She just kept telling the truth. And because of that, she changed the heart of Jesus. She persisted until she converted Jesus to a more broad and inclusive mission, not just to his own people, but to all of humanity.
I guess you could say that there is no better compliment to make about the Canaanite woman than to say, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” As LaVerne Gill said, “persistence is often the only tool of the disenfranchised.” What mother won’t do whatever is necessary for her children? So, she talked back to Jesus, argued with him, and got what she came for – healing for her daughter.
What does this story say to us? First of all, we owe a debt of gratitude to women who acted “unladylike,” who persisted through beatings and brutality, arrests and imprisonment to incrementally expand the rights of all people to participate in civic life. And everyone who is still fighting to keep those rights available to all people.
Secondly, it reminds us that even Jesus must be schooled, face his bias, and change. But that’s good news: even Jesus must be and can be changed when confronted by prejudice. As Steve Garnaas Holmes said, "It was the change that brought forth the miracle."
Lastly, to all the women who have been called aggressive – keep being assertive.
To all the women who have been called bossy – keep on leading.
To all the women who have been called difficult – keep telling the truth.
To all the women who’ve been told they’re “too much” – keep taking up space.
To all the women who’ve been called nasty, angry, and ambitious, thank you! Thank you for being leaders, agents of change to make our world more open, inclusive, just, and compassionate for all of us.
 LaVerne McCain Gill, Daughters of Dignity: African Women in the Bible and the Virtues of Black Motherhood, Pilgrim Press, 2000
 Gospel of Matthew chapter 1
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world