The Canaanite Woman: Exclusion or Mercy

The Sunday of Jesus and the Canaanite woman passed two weeks ago, and Fr. Paul's sermon has kept me thinking. In his posted sermon notes, Fr. Paul framed the passage as a narrative of exclusion vs. togetherness:

The key to the passage is that the woman, through her persistence, challenges that narrative. It is interesting to note that, of all the stories found in the Gospels, this is the only time anyone ever gets the better of Jesus in a discussion; it sparks admiration on his part for the woman. And so, when confronted with a choice between his people’s narrative and the person right in front of him, Jesus ultimately chooses the person, granting her the healing of her daughter that she seeks. In doing so, he and the woman begin the creation of a new story, more universal in scope, a “narrative of togetherness.”

In his sermon, Fr. Paul emphasized the Canaanite woman's hope in asking Jesus, a member of an oppressive people, for mercy. Requesting mercy from the member of a group which historically excludes her and her people opens her to the risk of yet another rejection. The hitch in this is that Jesus is not just any Israelite. He must have at least something of a reputation, enough that a woman in Gentile territory has heard of him, and is bold enough not only to seek him out, but to challenge the narrative of exclusion which Jesus repeats.

So, when do we risk asking for mercy, and when do we not? As a woman in a church whose praxis excludes women, sending them away from the altar much like the disciples ask Jesus to send the woman away at the beginning of the story, what does it mean to ask for mercy? Do our leaders give us reason to hope, emboldening us to challenge the narrative of exclusion and request mercy? What possibility is there in Orthodoxy to frame narratives of togetherness that do not rest on a false 'complementarity' which by reducing men and women to socially constructed stereotypes denies our unique human personhood? Will our bishops look at the person in front of them?

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