-Ashley DeTar Birt
Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. -Matthew 15:21-28
Standing up for oneself can be difficult. Even when we know that we are appreciated, loved, known, and called, it can still be a challenge to proclaim to the Church and the world that we are here and we are deserving. As God’s children, we should all receive respect and kindness—Jesus did command his followers to love their neighbors and themselves, after all. Yet as queer people, we are often denied a place at the table. Even those who claim to be welcoming are often unwilling to adjust traditions to better speak to us and our experiences.
The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 does something not often seen in the Gospels: she confronts Jesus and changes his mind. Canaanites weren’t held in high regard in Jesus’ day, and when she asks for His help, at first he dismisses her outright. Yet she bravely challenges him, knowing that she and her daughter are deserving of his help. His reaction? To declare her great in faith and to grant healing for her daughter.
Sometimes we have to speak up for ourselves even when it’s challenging. I know many people who have not felt represented within their church communities: binary language leaves them feeling unseen; the acknowledgement of gay and straight people invisibilizes their bisexual and pansexual identities; limited perspectives leave their experiences out of conversations about God. But they spoke up. Despite fear of conflict, they followed the Canaanite woman’s example and made Church a more open place for all. We, too, can follow that lead, and be courageous.
As you end this week and prepare for some days of rest, remember that there is a rightful place at the table for you and for all of us. Celebrate your strength and bravery!
About The Author
Ashley Detar Birt is the Director of Christian Education at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. She obtained her Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, an MA in Theater Arts from the University of Pittsburgh, and a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She serves on the board of More Light Presbyterians and blogs on the intersections of race, sexuality, and faith for Believe Out Loud.