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Year A, Ordinary 20, 2017 – Nevertheless, She Persisted

August 16, 2017 / Molly Douthett / Ordinary Time

Greetings!!  We are on vacation this week and the next but couldn’t resist the Gospel passage for Sunday. It is a treasure trove! We found material for all eight intelligences and had to work hard to limit our findings to the usual half hour show. We missed that goal a bit, but hope that you will be forgiving as you come with us into the story and see what we found. If you find something we overlooked, please let us know in the comments, at our Twitter feed, at our Facebook page, or email us. We really would love to hear from you.


See this link for our comments [01:59] regarding the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the past weekend. Holy Lord, it just seems to get worse.


Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28 [04:39] 

One of the most salient features of Scripture is the themes that run throughout it. Chief among them being God’s love for creation and our response to that love. As we worked on this story, we noticed the persistence of the Canaanite woman reflected the persistence of the widow in Luke 18:1-8 and Jacob’s persistence wrestling on the Jabbok from a couple weeks ago. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice” and he may have had these Biblical characters in mind as he and others persisted in pursuit of equality. Sometimes, we have to call on God persistently, trusting that our pleas for mercy will be answered.

We begin in WORD Smart, seeing familiar themes running from the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel into this story. The kneeling Gentile woman parallels the kneeling Gentile Magi; the Messianic title she uses to address Jesus mirrors the disciples’ confession of his identity just days before. Print out this passage and mark it up with symbols and colors to reveal the themes. Post it where your congregation can see it (engaging EYE Smart), or as we suggest as a special effect, use sound effects as the story is read to highlight the themes. If you choose this route, you will also be engaging MUSIC Smart!

In EYE Smart, we consider the space of this story. Not only the space on earth, but actual space! The region of Tyre and Sidon is where Elijah saved a widow and her son (hey! another connection to the rest of Scripture geographically and theologically!) and Jesus may have been hoping to withdraw after Pharisees confronted him about cleanliness (verses 10-20). But a woman begins orbiting Jesus like Cassini orbits Saturn and eventually crashes into him with her unshakeable plea. Take a look at the worksheet to see how we suggest demonstrating orbits as a special effect. Plus, break out the maps! A visual reminder of the “space” is always helpful for context.

MATH Smart does not contain any numbers (unless you read on to the feeding of the four thousand Gentiles), but does have some logical twists. The woman “wins” her case not only through her persistent refusal to give up, but also through agreeing with Jesus’ interpretation of her and her people. Most of us would hear the derogatory allusion to canines in Jesus’ words and immediately get up and leave, but this woman’s primary objective to heal her daughter was too important for that. She allows the insult to come at her and then takes it and throws it back at Jesus. He was likely not expecting that and had to scramble to catch it! OR he got hit with it and was stunned into recognizing her need. Either way, she got through to him, and her daughter received what she hoped for. To illustrate this encounter, we have links (see below) to articles in Psychology Today and As a special effect, find people who have debate experience or trial lawyers and ask them about how they argue a point.

Going with the thought of the woman and Jesus playing “catch, you could actually play catch with someone as a BODY Smart special effect. In the show we paid more attention to the woman kneeling before Jesus, which did two things: 1) showed that she was determined to have an audience, because you usually kneel in front of royalty and sovereign rulers, and 2) impeded his forward progress. She was a rock in a stream blocking his flow downriver (Hey! NATURE Smart!). We have some examples of kneeling for illustrations and suggest practicing balasana for a special effect.

Here, where the woman is kneeling in front of Jesus and throwing his words back at him, seems to me to be a turning point in a musical or opera. It is definitely a turning point for Jesus’ own ministry to the lost sheep. It seems he recognizes that all of his father’s flock is in need of shepherding, and he opens the scope of his ministry after this. We have many options for MUSIC Smart illustrations and special effects, including a variety of “Kyrie Eleison” offerings. It is my sincere desire to hear this passage as a song sometime before I die.

In NATURE Smart, we have a few links about dogs you can use as illustrations. We found information about their history and taxonomy, and more specifically, their place in human society in the first century. My mother grew up on a farm in western South Dakota, and her relationship with the dogs on the farm was not the warm, indulgent connection most of us have but much closer to the historic utilitarian partnership where dogs worked for their keep. In parts of the world today, there are loose packs of dogs with no particular human attachment roaming streets and roads. These are most likely the kind of dog Jesus referenced. As a special effect, we suggest bringing in a dog! Do you have anyone in or around your congregation who is a dog trainer or handler? Invite them to come talk about working with canines.

In PEOPLE Smart, we have links to two movies that may illustrate both the mother’s desperation and what happens when established boundaries are intentionally crossed. We have other illustrations that consider sexism in the story and quick thinking. (Plus, a little Monty Python, ‘cuz it’s us.) For a special effect, we ask you and your congregation to be honest with Jesus’ initial response to the woman – it is not kind or compassionate. He brushes her off at best and insults her at worst. It is not a picture we prefer to have of our Lord. But, like the less than honorable Jacob and imperfect David and reluctant Moses, Jesus reveals our humanity and in his reaction to this woman, shows us how to respond to challenges as fuller human beings. Also, consider how your congregation may assist desperate parents in your own community and around the world.

Finally in SELF Smart, we see how this woman has broken all manner of conventions that would deem her unclean to a first century Jew (see verses 10-20), yet at the end of the passage, Jesus proclaims that she has great faith. She embodies a pure heart, and what comes forth from her changes the mission and mind of God incarnate. This is a boomerang moment and to illustrate this, we suggest using the censure of Senator Elizabeth Warren this past February. Persistence may be its own reward!


  • Smarts – Word [07:04], Eye [08:48], Math [12:33], Body [15:47], Music [17:15], Nature [21:17], People [23:34], Self [31:14]
  • Matthew 15 worksheet
  • Links in Matthew   


Image credit:

Naskh is the caligraphic style for writing in the Arabic alphabet that the biblical text is written in for this manuscript. The artist, Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, was most likely a Coptic monk in the late 17th century in Egypt.

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