And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28
Every once in a while I think on the blessings God has sent my way. I have been lately thinking of the women who have led our church in the past decades and who, clergy and lay alike, have been women of incredible faith. I particularly am recalling two brave women who headed Native ministries for a long time, Carol Hampton and Owanah Anderson. They fought for participation for Native people in every role in the church, and they treated us all like sons and daughters, bringing us along and teaching us as they went. They fought for us with gracious words and firm hands, never backing down from ignorance or a challenge. As I look around the church today and see several Native women ordained in recent months, I rejoice for God is empowering these women of great faith.
Jesus was ready to turn away from a Canaanite woman who was begging him. He was ready to allow her to pass him by, since their cultures and the religious creeds dictated constant separation and alienation. Jesus was a man of his time and of his upbringing, and even he had some human ignorance to overcome. This one mother, persistent and unbending, turned his mind around, and opened up his heart. He saw her as a sister and a friend and knew that he faith made her bold. And a little girl was made well because of her incredible faith. The Canaanite woman was not going to allow the cultural and traditional taboos to stand in the way of life. And in this story, God invites us to be those who never stand in the way but instead fight life mama bears for the life of her cubs.
Today, as I begin a journey that will land me at Niobrara Convocation in North Dakota, may every thing I do be for the life and faith of others. May we all take responsibility for those who follow behind, fighting for their faith and life, encouraging them and boldly standing firm on the full inclusion of all people. Our humanity is prone to exclusion, but as faithful followers, we are called to put love first, and offer our lives in the raising up and protecting others in their journey of the spirit.