Jesus had such an encounter with a bold and clever Gentile woman
Tanitha knew that getting close to Jesus was going to be difficult. He was enjoying a little excursion to Phoenicia, to get away from the crowds in Galilee. His traveling companions were obviously protecting him, determined to keep any annoyance (like herself!) from bothering him. The tall disciple with the black beard and the grumpy guy with the yellow tunic were the stalwarts of the security detail. If she could get by them, she had a chance. Tanitha had a plan.
She hurried home to fetch a platter of sweet cakes that she had prepared earlier. She recruited two neighborhood boys to distract “Black Beard,” offering them cakes as compensation. Meanwhile she casually walked by Jesus and the rest of the gang. At the last minute she handed the platter to “Grumpy,” asking him to hold it for her. He was momentarily flustered and she slipped right by him, approached Jesus and made her request.
“Grumpy” recovered quickly, handed the platter to someone else and advised Jesus to send the woman on her way. Jesus was caught off guard by the commotion and explained to the woman that his work was confined to Israel. Tanitha was not going to be deterred easily. She knelt down before Jesus and again asked for his help. By that time Jesus had figured out what had happened. Impressed with the woman’s determination and her clever plan for outfoxing the disciples, he was intrigued enough to continue engaging. He helped her to her feet and offered a rationale for refusing her request. “It would not be right to throw the children’s food to the dogs,” he suggested.
Tanitha was ready with the perfect response: “Even the dogs get a few scraps.” An appreciative smile crossed Jesus’ face at her perfectly true retort and the spirit that drove it. He happily granted the woman’s request.
Jesus gave Tanitha a wonderful gift that day. And Tanitha gave Jesus a gift, too. She gave him a rare opportunity to interact with a Gentile. She offered a small window into her world that provided Jesus’ followers with a different perspective and allowed a connection to her people. After his resurrection, as Jesus instructed his disciples to proclaim the good news to all the nations, perhaps Jesus remembered Tanitha and her quick wit with a special fondness.
Tanitha also provided us with a wonderful insight about giving dogs a few scraps, i.e. offering a little attention to those who are not your primary concern. The Jewish people would continue to remain the focus of Jesus’ ministry, of course, but perhaps the brief encounter with Tanitha altered the way Jesus — and especially his disciples — would make their outreach to Gentiles. Jesus benefited from engaging with many different people during his life, as we all do, including the woman from Phoenicia who interrupted his holiday.
All of us are enriched by our encounters with other people, especially those whose lives, experiences and perspectives are different from our own. Like Jesus we should welcome such encounters. If we volunteer at a soup kitchen, we should not only enjoy the chance to be of service but also take advantage of the opportunity to broaden our perspectives from the people we serve. Who knows? Perhaps we will meet someone like Tanitha who will make a lasting impression.
Author’s note: Scripture provides no name for the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus nor any information on her strategy for gaining access. We use our imagination to fill in the details.