Sunday Sermon: The Canaanite Woman 16 August 2020 by Revd May Laban

The message today is from Revd May Laban.   The poem “Finding Freedom” by Wadia Samadi is read by Dr Claudine Hingston and the prayer led by Judith Serafim. 

Our thanks to the Anglican Women’s Fellowship for arranging this morning’s worship.  Please find the text of the service below.

An audio version is available too.

Good morning all you faithful people of God. I thank the Anglican Women’s Fellowship and Revd. Dr. Andrew Warmback for this wonderful privilege to preach in my former Parish, especially as I celebrate 3 years of retirement.

The Lord be with you.   And also with you.

We listen to the Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation

In the Name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

In today’s gospel Jesus and his disciples went to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

It is the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside of Jewish territory:

This would be a special “time apart”, away from the crowds and away from the immediate demands of his mission /to prepare his disciples for the coming events of the cross.

And this is where “a Canaanite woman from that region came to him” and knelt before him with her request, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly  

This woman in an act of worship, called Jesus, Lord. This was her brief confession of faith. This was her acknowledgment that she knew in her heart/ that Jesus was the Messiah.

This mother’s love for her daughter was far greater than any social boundaries.

This woman was a foreigner, an outsider. The Canaanites were pagans. In the Old Testament we read that they worshipped and bowed down to graven images.

Yet after a single encounter with Jesus – Jesus described her with four immortal words: Great is your faith.

And in the end she received the reward of faith – her daughter was healed.

Yet it was this Canaanite pagan to whom Jesus said, Great is your faith!  Notice that Jesus rarely said that to his own people or to his own disciples. He often said to them: O you of little faith!

It was this foreigner, this outsider, this woman from the wrong side of the tracks/ whose faith moved Jesus.

The ministry of Jesus is for all people of every time and place.

But his earthly ministry had to be limited. It had to be concentrated on the people who were supposed to be waiting for him – the people of Israel -the people of promise, the descendants of Abraham, through whom God’s blessing would reach people of all nations (Gen. 12.1-3).

Jesus was trying to make a point about faith – and about the barriers that people place in the way of salvation – barriers of race, barriers of culture, barriers of sexuality, barriers of wealth, even barriers of morality and religion.

The prophet Isaiah, wrote:  Is not the House of the Lord of Israel, the House of God, to be called a House of Prayer for All Nations?

This is the way the Church is supposed to be.

Today’s Gospel shows us the barriers that exist between people and those barriers can be overcome.

There are many kinds of barriers that seek to keep the Canaanite woman from Jesus and the salvation that she seeks. The most obvious barrier is that fact of her nationality.

She was not a Jew. Therefore, she had no right to turn to a Jewish religious leader for help.

Archaeologists  have found giant pools in the homes of Jews/ of that day/ called “Mikvahs”, and it appears that one of the major uses of these pools /was to wash off the ceremonial filthiness/ of items /purchased from the Gentiles.

This was a kind of deep sanitizing.

The second barrier is that she was a woman – and despite the record of how many woman came to Jesus for help, a woman could not approach a male Jewish religious leader uninvited.

After the woman decided to approach Jesus, after she called upon him to heal her daughter, she had to deal with his silence.  She had to overcome the natural reaction that surely welled up within her to simply give up and go away.  The Master was not responding to her.

Then – on top of this – when she persisted in crying out/ she had to deal with the disciples, who tried to drive her away and who even asked Jesus to send her away..

And then, at last, when she did get close to Jesus -when she knelt  before him to ask for his help- she had to deal with what seemed to be an insult – she must swallow whatever pride she may have left and allow herself to be compared to a dog.

Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread, and to throw it to the dogs,” — hardly a comforting response given that calling a person a “dog” was an insult.

Historians write that in those days dogs were the unclean scavengers of the street — lean, savage, and diseased.

Jesus was reminding her of a familiar saying, gently, almost playfully. The word he used referred to the family pet (the puppy).

She accepted the reference and recognised the kindness implied in his words. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table (v. 27). Even the puppies are part of the family.

She didn’t question the purpose of God in which he chose the Jewish nation as his special people. All that she knew was that her daughter was in a terrible condition and that she needed supernatural help.

It is easy for us when we meet barriers between ourselves and what we want -to walk away in sadness and in disgust, in anger, or in despair.

But the Canaanite woman does not do this.  And Jesus admires her faith and says to her:

Woman, great is your faith! Your daughter is healed (v. 28).

This Canaanite woman awakens in us a feeling of admiration, perhaps even envy, because every Christian would like it said of him or her: Great is your faith?

Faith is evidence that Christ’s love is greater than our human barriers.

What human sinfulness breaks asunder -God’s love brings healing.

Faith is a gift from Jesus himself, who stretched out his arms of love on the cross, that ALL might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

And so the challenge for us as the church is: how do we respond? How do we make room for the Canaanite women of our day?

Civil rights leader /Martin Luther King Jr.- in his famous letter from the jail in Birmingham -responded to criticisms of the local clergy who accused him of stirring up trouble away from his home town.

He wrote: “Injustice anywhere/ is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality/ tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Christianity cannot be contained/confined or isolated. Christianity extends out into the world. There are No exceptions!

There are huge gaps in our world. Many of them are made by us/ because we need them to sustain our sense of identity, security, and dignity.

Our tribal instincts create gaps between those who belong and those who do not. They define us nationally, politically, racially, theologically, socially, and economically.

Several times in the gospels we hear people crying out to Jesus with these words “ Lord have mercy.. That is the cry of the church even today

This world is in such a great mess -especially in this time of Covid 19.

In this Women’s Month -Like the Canaanite woman-  we too cry out! “Lord, have mercy.”

On 9 August 2020, President Cyril Ramphosa in his speech to mark Women’s Day said:

“South Africa is in the grip of two pandemics – the coronavirus pandemic and the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide. More women and children are being abused and losing their lives at the hands of men. It cannot be that this Women’s Day is drenched in the tears of families who have lost their sisters, daughters and mothers to violence perpetrated by men. This cannot continue. We can no longer as a nation ignore the deafening cries of women and children for protection, for help and for justice.

The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world. In the most recent release of the crime statistics by the South African Police Service revealed that during the reporting period April 2019 to March 2020, there were 53,293 sexual offences.

These included rapes, sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults and contact sexual assaults. Such toxic /masculinity/ has no place in a civilized society.

Today we appeal to men in South African/ to become agents of change/ and play an active role in ridding our society/ of gender based violence and femicide .

At this time in South Africa “Gender-based violence requires all men to stand up/ call out, and address the violent and aggressive behaviour/that many women and children face every day.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians Chapter 3 verse 28 we read:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This is such beautiful vision of what God intended and promises to restore.

And so with that vision and path in mind, may we all work together to create a more just world where we can honor and celebrate the unique ways/ in way God created us /rather than using our differences to manipulate/exploit/ and rule over.

In the Eucharist -in the Prayer of Humble Access –we say: “We do not presume to come to this thy table, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercy.”

May each of us today, recognize God’s eternal love and mercy/ in the everyday faces of our brothers and sisters, wherever we go. To this God who makes us one – we give all our glory, praise and thanksgiving.   AMEN

Dr Claudine Hingston reads a poem for Women’s Month

As we all know South Africa is experiencing a second pandemic, a pandemic that is different from COVOD-19 and that is the pandemic of violence against women.  To commemorate this women’s month I thought it was but fitting that I share this poem with you.  It is called Finding Freedom and it is written by Wadia Samadi.  It is a poem that talks about violence against women and the hope for women in the future.

Finding Freedom Written by Wadia Samadi

I wake up every morning scheming my escape
But what about my children?
Who will believe me?
Who will give me a home?
Years go by and I am still waiting
When will this end?

My makeup does not cover my bruised face
My smile does not hide my haggard visage
Yet, no one comes to help
They say: it will get better
They say: don’t talk about it
They say: this was my fate
They say: a woman must tolerate
Don’t air your dirty laundry, they say.
When will this end?

Once again, he drags my body to the floor
He chokes me and I beg him not to kill me
Once again, he demands my silence
Once again, he tells me I don’t deserve to live

I have had enough
I will not be silent
I will live
I will find freedom
This will end today.

Judith Seraphim leads us in prayer :

God of all, God of hope

We pray for women and girls today

That they will be all they can be

Give us courage to speak and to work for

equality and justice

Until the earth is filled

With righteousness and love



We make our SPIRITUAL COMMUNION as we pray :

Jesus, may all that is in you flow into me

May your body and blood be my food and drink.

May your passion and death be my strength and life.

Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.

May the shelter I seek/ be the shadow of your Cross.

Let me not run/ from the love which you offer

But hold me safe /from the forces of evil.

On each of my dyings/ shed your light and your love

Keep calling to me/ until that day comes

when with your saints/ I may praise you for ever.  AMEN


May the blessing of our Heavenly Father be upon you

May our Lord Jesus, who lived with the holy family in Nazareth,

dwell also with your family

and may the Holy Spirit abide within your home and within the hearts of all who live there.  AMEN


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord In the Name of Christ. Amen 

We listen to our closing hymn: To God be the glory,

great things He hath done. 


During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account:   Account Name: St Paul’s Church      Account Number: 50854628623     Bank: First National Bank (FNB)     Branch Code: 221426