The Canaanite Woman

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Anabella Morabito
Reflection Paper #5
The Canaanite Woman
In her book, Back to the Well, Frances Gench explores the story of the Syro-Phoenician, or Canaanite, woman. She offers an exegesis of the two different accounts found in Matthew and Mark. One of the points which I find extremely fascinating in Gench's work is the idea of ethnic boundaries that is reflected in Jesus' response to the Gentile woman. Gench claims that in the words of Matthew 10:5-6 "Jesus now conveys his own sense of divine commission and necessity and his sense that ethnic boundaries define the mission he has embraced. These words express a troubling ethnic exclusivism on Jesus' part..." (7) To begin to layer the idea of ethnic boundaries on top of the already existing gender boundaries is a challenging and yet fascinating task, especially in our day and age where ethnic and racial boundaries become more and more apparent in the face of migration and globalization.

In this story it is essential to note the conversion which Jesus experiences because of the Canaanite woman's confrontation. Leticia A. Guardiola-Saenz says that "I hold that the Canaanite woman is not a humble dog begging for crumbs. She is a dispossessed woman who has awoken from her position as oppressed, and now is coming to confront the empire and demand her right to be treated as a human being." (17) The Syro-Phoenician woman takes the role a prophet when Jesus is failing to see what is demanded of him. "In this confrontation, she challenges the excluding ideology of chosenness, asks for restitution, and humanizes the oppressor by her presence" (17) In a way the Canaanite woman pushes Jesus the re-member the inclusive power of God, a mercy which extends to all, past the “lost sheep of Israel”. It is crucial to note that the narrative portrays Jesus repenting (changing his mind) because of a challenge, a challenge brought by a woman. This is the only time in the tradition that Jesus is taught by someone,...
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