I am sure each one of us has our own story of a time when we came to that bridge too far and we didn’t cross over. Didn’t cross over, couldn’t cross over, refused to cross over – these are very thin lines of distinction. Sometimes the very act of crossing over presents a paradigm that is just too much for us. Sometimes it is about simple things. My mom read all the time but could not imagine ebooks, Kindles and the idea of an entire library in the palm of your hand. Her great granddaughter can’t imagine the world any other way.
Sometimes it’s about more substantive things – times when core principles clash.
Crossing over can bring old fears, grudges and biases into play. You know, when St Mark describes this same scene in his gospel, he refers to the woman as “Syro-Phoenician.” Not Matthew. He digs back into Jewish history and dredges up a name unused in centuries – Canaanite. A name that speaks of “other,” of enemy, of the ones who offered up child sacrifices to their false gods. And this one,….. this Canaanite… dares to cross-over and approach our Messiah: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” Send her away. Do whatever she needs. Do a miracle; heal her daughter – and let’s be done with her. She is other and a bother; we’ve no time or energy for her.
Jesus finally says something: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yeah, yeah – that’s right, he was sent only to us – not them. Just send her away; don’t even heal her daughter. Perhaps that is what the apostles heard. They missed the part where Jesus tells them they are lost, they can’t find the way to the altar and the salvation promised by Isaiah. They missed that part. They aren’t thinking about being so lost that they are no longer a light to anyone, not even themselves. At this point the apostles aren’t a light shining for anyone. Without the light no one can cross over to the salvation promised.
While it is easy to think about this passage as an exchange between Jesus and the woman alone. It is really a story about Jesus challenging the woman and the apostles about the focus of their faith and the power of that faith to be a light that leads them and others to cross over toward Jesus.
This woman – desperate about her daughter – but of great faith is crossing over from all she has held true and believed about the Jews, and now she drops to her knees and does homage, worships, this one… this Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus of Nazareth.
The apostles – desperate to believe this one is the Messiah, the one who will bring salvation – need to cross over from their narrow belief about who will receive the offer of salvation. Because, in the end of things, the Risen Jesus will tell them to cross over – to go to the ends of the earth – to the Canaanites, Assyrians, Moabites, Persians, Philistines – to the Romans, the Americas, to China, to the ends of the earth and offer the salvation to all, the salvation they once thought privileged to themselves and their own.
Funny thing is that the very etymological root of the word “Hebrew” means “those who cross over.”