Stubborn Blessing

MercyImage: Mercy © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 15/Ordinary 20/Pentecost +10: Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

A Canaanite woman from that region
came out and started shouting,

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;
my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
– Matthew 15:22

Clearly Jesus didn’t realize who he was messing with that day. Or did he? Perhaps Jesus knew precisely what he was doing and chose to use this encounter as a teaching moment for his hearers. Or perhaps he was simply in a stubborn mood and found himself facing someone who could match him easily, stubborn for stubborn. Either way, the story shows us that when it comes to saving what needs saving, being merely nice and pliant won’t win the day, or the life. Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering.

Stubborn Blessing

Don’t tell me no.
I have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill
from your hands
like water, like wine,
seen you with circles
and circles of crowds
pressed around you
and not one soul
turned away.

Don’t start with me.

I am saying
you can close the door
but I will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but I will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but I will trace a bigger one
around you,
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother
for stubbornness.

I am saying
I know what you
can do with crumbs
and I am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
Unclench your hand,
your heart.
Let the scraps fall
like manna,
like mercy
for the life
of my child,
the life of
the world.

Don’t you tell me no.


For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below.

The Feast Beneath
The Feast Beneath

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17 Responses to “Stubborn Blessing”

  1. Linda Goddard Says:

    “Stubborn Blessing”!!!!! OOOOOOOHHHHHHH! Right On, Jan! Write On!

  2. John Patrick Says:

    Just to say thank you Jan Richardson.

  3. Steve Bieghler Says:

    I agree with your premise entirely and I find the poem very engaging. Thank you for your thoughtful work. I choose (I’m not clear if this was your intention) to hear the poem you’ve shared as more of an internal dialogue (hollering on the inside) from the mother’s perspective. The scripture text doesn’t, however, go in that direction. The mother’s words to Jesus are brief and clear and, while obviously filled with emotion, choose instead to engage Jesus at the level of respectful honesty and acknowledgement (faith?) not stubborn demand. Still, this poem has given me much to think about as I prepare to preach this text which is one of my favorite stories.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Steve, thanks so much for your words. The scriptural texts often leave so much unknown in terms of the inflection and tenor of Jesus’ words, as well as the words of those who spoke to him. I find this can be both frustrating and also a rich invitation to the imagination and to prayer. What I think of as the woman’s “stubbornness” is definitely not petulant and demanding, but a willingness to engage Jesus in a clear-minded, convicted, and persistent fashion: honesty and acknowledgment, as you say, which are very much at the heart of her faith, as Jesus recognizes.

      My reference to hollering grew from how Matthew twice uses the word “shouting” to describe the woman’s actions in initially trying to capture Jesus’ attention (which clearly doesn’t go over well with the disciples!). I don’t imagine her hollering at Jesus once she actually begins talking with him, though I can imagine that the energy she had put into shouting and seeking to gain an audience with Jesus did provide some fuel for the words she shared with him as they began to talk together.

      Thank you again! Many blessings as you prepare to preach such an engaging story.

  4. Karen O'Brien Says:

    Blessings on YOU, Jan. This poem was re-printed on the “Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks” Facebook page (your friend Christine Valters Paintner) and I had to find you and just write you myself and say what a remarkable, moving, powerful poem! What a testament of faith!!! I am copying it out to paste on one of my bookmarks so I can have it near me. May you have crumbs in abundance :) as your life continues to unfold !!!!

  5. Linda Chapin Says:

    I love the way Jan cuts through the centuries and the stilted Scripture to remind us of the struggles common to all of us across ages and cultures. Wish we saw and heard and read more such efforts to demonstrate our shared humanity.

  6. Cynthia Helton Says:

    Jan, I love and appreciate your “Stubborn Blessing.” How would I have known that today I’d come across the EXACT wording that speaks of my need …that gives me the freedom to stomp my feet out of love – and trust my impudence will only endear me ..not alienate me from God. Thank you so much for this God-gift.

  7. Abigail Says:

    The stubborn message is more common than I/we realize. Stubbornness is a lot of me. So… Today permission to own that trait but in positive prayer living. No shame and thoughts to mellow my persistence.

  8. Just Martyrn Says:

    The Canannite woman was pursuing God’s grace and knew that it was as much hers as it was to anyone else. The grace was that which Jesus could give.

    God does not withhold grace from us–but sometimes we perceive it as such. God wants us to fight for that which he has promised. This is what the woman did. As Jesus perceived all things, he withholds it from the woman’s reach.

    The woman is not praised for her stubbornness, for her intellect or wisdom; she is praised for her faith.

    Let’s not get all proud for our stubborn quality–remember, much of our stubbornness is born of sinful pride. Let’s not even be proud about our faith–but let us boast in our Lord, who is the source of goodness for this woman and the source of our salvation.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Many thanks! Yes—I definitely agree that any quality, including stubbornness, is not to be a source of pride, which can so easily distance us from Christ. Stubbornness can very quickly take wrong turns when it manifests as a refusal to see or do or be what Christ is calling us to see and do and be. There is a kind of persistence, however, that emerges as we open our eyes and hearts and minds to what Christ does want us to see and do and become. This is the kind of persistence (what I call here stubbornness, in a positive sense) to which Christ calls us, and that Paul talks about as well: persistence that is a manifestation of our faith, and a crucial quality of that faith: a means by which Christ helps keep us from giving up when he is calling us to press on.

      I see the Canaanite woman’s persistence very much as part of her faith; she is not stubborn merely for the sake of being stubborn, but she is really willing to hold her point, and stand her ground, for the purpose of her daughter’s healing. The woman inspires and challenges me to consider where I am being called to be persistent—stubborn—in a positive sense, in pursuit of Christ and his call on my life, and in service to those who are in need of the healing that he provides.

      Thank you again, and blessings!

  9. Jan Richardson Says:

    Friends, thanks so much for your words; I am grateful! Many blessings as we each continue to discern where God is calling us to persistence in our faithfulness.

  10. mary stone Says:

    Persistent. With fidelity.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Indeed! Thank you, Mary. :-) As we’ve reflected on our retreat theme this week, I’ve been struck by the timing of this story of the Canaanite woman, and what she embodies about faithfulness. (Note to others: I’m on retreat this week with Mary and other sisters and brothers in my beloved community of Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. Our theme for the retreat is “Fidelity and the Monastic Vision.” A rich theme for reflection and lots of wondrous conversations.)

  11. Cindy Alloway Says:

    You are the only other person I have found that believes this was a teaching moment by Jesus for all those looking on. Since the Jewish way of teaching often used two extremes, he first responded with the extreme negativity expected by the Pharisees. Then he responded with God’s compassion that was in his heart! Love having your agreement on this!

  12. Jane Heil Says:

    Beautiful, Jan, poem, painting remarks! And I appreciate Mary’s comment “Persistent. With fidelity.” And as you said What a “wondrous” retreat! Love!

  13. Kara Says:

    Thank you so much, for this, Jan. I hope it’s ok that I opened my sermon with your poem today.

  14. George Says:

    Dear Jan,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, artwork and poetry on last week’s gospel lesson. I used your poem in my sermon (I told them you wrote it!). The image of tracing a bigger circle captured the meaning of the text for me.

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