When I was little, I was taught Jesus loved me because the Bible told me so. Little ones to him belong. I was the weak one; he was the strong one.
When I was baptized, I was taught that I now lived a life to be modeled by his, dying to self and beginning a new life.
At some point, my purity was added in there to create an odd codependent relationship with my strong lord and savior who was the creator of the universe, and yet I would somehow be disowned for not keeping a promise I made signified by a ring.
I knew I needed to love that Jesus, but the message of “Good News Love” wasn’t getting through to me.
It was not until seminary, in chapel one Tuesday late morning, when Chanequa Walker-Barnes preached about the Canaanite woman in Matthew that this changed for me.
Walker-Barnes preached about a tired and grumpy Jesus who – in a moment of weakness – shouts at the Canaanite woman just looking for help.
He calls this woman a female dog and tries to move on. But without missing a beat, the woman claps back with, “Even dogs deserve scraps.”
Now, before you stop reading this because I just suggested that Jesus cussed – and at a woman no less – stay with me.
In that world, the Canaanite woman was an outsider for being a Canaanite, a woman, and, God help us, mouthy.
In a moment where Jesus’ hurtful words were considered normal treatment to an outsider and a woman, she stood up for herself, using the power she had in a moment when she had nothing left to lose.
I’ve often wondered who this woman was outside of that story.
Was she the strong silent type? Never questioning her place in life?
Or was she always warned to hold her tongue? Was she told that she made the elders uncomfortable when she talked back to them?
Either way, in this moment, we see a woman tell her truth with the best comeback to being called the word known around the world as a way to put women down and, in doing so, inviting Jesus to have a bigger understanding of beloved.
This is the Jesus I read about and love. The human Jesus who was cranky and yet saw the humanity in the Canaanite woman. The divine Jesus who could take some pushback and expand the beloved community to include women.
The Canaanite woman was a truth-teller. She knew the power Jesus held, knew it was enough for everyone and, in demanding a healing, expanded Jesus’ mission.
That morning, my understanding of the character of Jesus changed. He was no longer a character off limits from questioning, but someone I could relate to. Ultimately, I was reminded that I too could be a truth teller, mouthy and a woman of great faith.
Jesus affirmed women who spoke up. The woman at the well, his mother, his friend Mary, the Canaanite woman – all these women were unbothered by the norms of their day and too concerned with liberation.
This story invites us to shine a light on systems and norms that have kept women silent for too long under the guise of being “proper” or for fear of being “divisive,” especially in the church – the place many women first felt their invitation to ministry.
And it asks us not to shut down those pushing us to expand our tables, but to pass the mic and learn.
I have resonated with the Canaanite woman many times in my life and career as a Latina navigating predominantly white spaces that assured me my voice is needed yet ran to shut it off when I demanded my scraps.
It is this kind of policing that keeps our faith communities from growing and continues to tarnish the mission of Jesus. This kind of silencing tears our young women away from being our leaders of a faith that so clearly called them ordained.
In Mona Eltahawy’s book, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, she writes, “What would the world look like if girls were taught they were volcanoes, whose eruptions were a thing of beauty, a power to behold and a force not to be trifled with? What if instead of breaking their wildness like a rancher tames a bronco, we taught girls the importance and power of being dangerous?”
When we break ties with systems and behaviors that continue to silence women and connect with those who hope to create a more inclusive community, we chip away at a toxic theology and patriarchy that has held the church hostage for too long.
When we accept long-taught ideas that women are only to be quiet and caring but never loud and bold, we continue to play into the toxicity of patriarchy and deny the characteristics of an early church mother who ultimately reminded Jesus that she was just as worthy.
Be like Jesus, yes. But may this remind you that being like the Canaanite woman is good too.
Thank Jesus for the good news of love and redemption, and thank God for the Canaanite woman who reminds us all to speak our truths.