The Canaanite Woman


A link to the video of this service on 16 August will be provided here when available. If you wish to follow the service please download the liturgy.

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The key elements of the service are provided in the sections below including the text of the sermon.


Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer; give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8

Matthew 15:10-28


by Mother Katie

The Canaanite Woman

I don’t have much time for men who call women dogs.

So the Jesus of this Gospel story bugs me. Always has.

Here is a woman with a sick child and she really needs help. And he has the most surprising response – he calls her a dog and says he didn’t come for her – he came first for Israel.

Misogyny and then racism.

If I had a top ten of awkward Bible passages this definitely makes the list – and probably the top three.

In contrast the woman – the outsider and foreigner – the one the first audience of this Gospel were so used to dismissing and calling a dog themselves – commands all our attention, engages all our sympathy and demands admiration.

For she has the courage to go where she is not wanted; to speak when no one wants to hear; to raise her voice when culture requires she should be silent. And to keep speaking her truth, no matter what abuse she takes, until she is heard.

Brave, bold, counter-cultural moves. Spiritual leadership at its finest.

As a woman in this society she is powerless and being alone makes her all the more vulnerable – they as men are protected by status and power and the strength of numbers. They hold all the blessings. Their privilege blinds them to her pain. Their culture making them deaf to her pleas. BUT they are still good people – this is Jesus and the disciples remember – and so this passage is a warning – a warning that good people so often stand by whilst terrible things happen – good people can say terrible things from seemingly good motives and good always risks blinding us to what is better.

So this group of good men – very good men – ignore the woman’s pain – insult her – argue with her – wish she would go away.

Nevertheless she persisted – and make no mistake – it would have taken nerves of steel to continue.

But she goes on – perhaps because her love for her child is greater than any risk to her self. But perhaps because she is called to be the teacher in this story – and her role is to minister to Christ and the disciples – to show an understanding of grace that is before her time and prophetic in its nature. She asks of them – but in the topsy turvy way the gospel so often operates perhaps she is the one giving to them?

In a way I feel her determination to not let them pass her by is reminiscent of Jacob – do you remember he wrestles with God and will not let go until God blesses him? Well, she does the same – and for her persistence and faith she is blessed and rewarded – her daughter is healed.

Jacob when he is blessed is given a new name – Israel – the chosen people of God whom God will bless and through whom blessing will come to the world.

Jesus needs to remind Israel of this promise in this passage – they haven’t felt very chosen for a long time – they have suffered – and he needs them to hear that God has not forgotten them – they come first in his mission – and their Messiah has come.

But he also needs to let them hear the words of this woman who instinctively knows to call him Lord.

And perhaps it is set up this way? Because they to be taught and changed by her words – for blessing can not stop with them – and grace must go beyond the boundaries and borders to include all. After Christ’s death this is exactly what the Spirit will require.

For as our passage from Isaiah foretold – the blessing of God is meant for all – there are no outsiders in the Kingdom of God – only those we’ve failed to make room at the table for. For all are chosen by the love of Christ – and just as Jacob becomes Israel – Israel in one sense becomes this woman in this passage – the chosen people are redefined to include all – to be all – in the least likely character. And just as a woman first declares the reality of resurrection – it is a woman who first articulates the theology of the new chosen people under grace. Anyone who can call Jesus Lord is to be included.

And thus what starts as a shocking and offensive passage becomes one of the most radical and subversive passages – the opposite of what we first perceive. Which is a good reminder to check our vision – for what we first see isn’t always what is really going on. Too often we only view the world from our own lens – and we all need a Canaanite woman to come along and shake things up.

You know that God changed Jacob’s name – well Jesus changes the name he uses for this woman – from dog to woman – which might not sound like a whole lot of a change – but in the original Greek the move is much more pronounced.

It goes from insult to warm and appreciative delight – O woman! – it has the overtones of both deep affection, intimacy and awe – perhaps even affectionate teasing. The text doesn’t tell us about body language – but it is the kind of phrase you might say whilst cupping someone’s face in your hands – or with a loving smile. It is the language of speaking to an equal who is loved. And it calls us to see through the eyes of Christ – the person before him – a woman of great faith – to whom blessing is being given and through whom blessing has come that day – and will come to many more in the future.

Israel, the chosen people, are being redefined by her actions and words. And her role in healing is much, much bigger than just her child.

Now that inclusive and prophetic movement started by a woman who was considered a dog – still has some way to go – we still don’t have a world where all are equal and all have a place at the table. Not least when we look at recent events in America and events relating to racism – or on our side of the ocean the turning away of desperate refugees in our channel.

Today’s gospel is a gospel for the good people – who might be tempted to think of others as dogs. It demands us to sit with the uncomfortable questions – who are those who we might naturally want to exclude? Who are those we find easy to ignore? Who are those we insult or wish would go away? Or would like to shut up?

And in what way is the table of God’s blessing meant for them too? In what ways is it us that really needs to change and not them at all?

In what ways can we make room for them? In what ways can we offer real bread to those who only beg for crumbs?

And what blessing and witness of faith do we miss if we fail to do this as individuals, as a church, as community and a country?

But it is also a challenge I think – to us all on a personal level – to bring all of ourselves before Jesus for healing.

Sadly so often church is one of the easiest places to wear a mask – not just because you are forced to right now – but long before COVID – we chose to bring masks to church – invisible ones but shields all the same – to hide the bits of ourselves that we despise or would rather ignore, shut up and silence. The dog parts of our own lives. And we all have them.

And this story invites us to pay attention to those parts. To let let them be heard – to be mindful of them – and to continually ask God for help with them – letting God’s delight be in us as it was in this woman – and letting God’s healing make us whole as it did for her daughter. It invites us to take the mask off and be as unafraid as this woman to show others our need and pain.

In the original garden of Eden people were naked and nothing was hidden – and they had nothing to hide – and the Kingdom – the new creation – given to us by the new Adam – requires of us a similar openness, vulnerability and nakedness before God.

Not physically but spiritually – realising that vulnerability is also strength – it is faith which hides nothing from God – it is faith which believes in our full dependence on him alone.

And so today if there is a part of you that needs healing; a part of you that needs to be heard; a part of you that you struggle to accept. I invite you to bring that to the altar as we take communion – and receive not just crumbs – but bread from God – bread that is body of his son. The most costly of gifts given to you – that once given makes you family – and an outsider no more. That is given to make you whole and healed.

And perhaps reflect that every other food you take into your body – your body will change and use and discard – just as it said in the first part of our passage. But this is the only food that does the reverse – it will change you and use you if you will let it.

And this is my deepest longing as a priest – that we will let God use all of us in this church to bring blessing and healing – to the deepest parts of ourselves and the widest parts of our world.

And I believe the Eucharist is at the heart of this. Pope Pius X said that if angels were able to envy they would be envious of our ability to take communion.

And like the woman in our story – we have done nothing to deserve such grace – but grace is nevertheless given.

St Therese of Lisieux – one of Fr Donald’s favourite saints – said this about feeling unworthy to receive communion.

“At the time of Holy Communion I sometimes picture my soul under the figure of a little child of three or four years, who at play has got its hair tossed and its clothes soiled. These misfortunes have befallen me in battling with souls. But very soon the Blessed Virgin hastens to my aid: quickly, she takes off my dirty little pinafore, smoothes my hair and adorns it with a pretty ribbon or simply with a little flower… and this suffices to render me pleasing and enables me to sit at the Banquet of Angels without blushing.”

I think the liturgy does this too – it dresses us – to meet our God in the Banquet of Angels – where grace is served and able to make all things new.