Saturday, August 15, 2020

Canaanite Woman and Jesus' Niyamas


Matthew 15:10-28

[Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then 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.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus seems to be contradicting himself in these readings, or is he? On one hand he speaks of the Pharisees as those not to be listened to, he speaks of being sent to serve the house of Israel only, but then appears to change his mind accepting the faith of the Canaanite woman. How is this not a contradiction? It almost feels like Jesus says Israel Lives Matter but that does not mean that All Lives Do Not Matter too, he was just focusing on the group in greatest need at that moment in time, Israel. The Canaanite woman still matters…but is that really the point of all of this?  I do not think so.  Personally, I think it goes to how each person lives their lives and the ethics they choose to follow within themselves no matter who the are or where they are from.  This internal ethics is the Niyamas (you all knew I was going to return to this 😉 remember the “I” tells you it is about us and our internal world). So, let’s spend some time laying out the five Niyamas with Deborah Adele’s* help:

1.       Saucha or Purity – Purity can refer to both physical and mental purity.  Or as we say in my (Episcopal) church when we confess our sins in “Thought, Word and Deed.”  In fact, the act of confessing sins is an act of Saucha.  But we must attempt to take it in to our lives, often failing, but we try. Letting go of judging or trying to change things and accepting them as they are is Saucha.  Being honest with ourselves and our thoughts.  Jesus was being honest with his thoughts in the above verses, and the Canaanite women points out a flaw and the deepness of her faith by purely expressing her Saucha to Jesus.  He is touched by this and offers healing.

2.       Santosha or Contentment – Living in the here and now not the past or the future, being happy with the hand you have been dealt.  On the surface the Canaanite woman appears to want to change her dealt hand, or she wants to change her child’s dealt hand, but this does not mean that she is discontent with where she is.  She points this out to Jesus in reminding him that “even the dog’s eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table,” happily accepting this hand they have been dealt or Santosha.

3.       Tapas or Self-Discipline…also Heat (not small food to share in this case😉), one word with so many meanings! In the Niyamas though it is self-discipline but the means to get there can develop metaphorical heat. To be good at anything requires self-discipline. This discipline could be viewed as tapas or heat. It is a discipline that is grounded in the present moment (Santosha), and a true heart to the learning (Saucha). Jesus speaks with Tapas (heat) about Tapas when he said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” We need to be disciplined in our words and life.

4.       Svadhyaya or Self-Study Deborah Adele* asks us to write down the first five things we think of that describe the world as we see it, knowing that this will tell you more about yourself than the world.  Are you curious about your inner world? Why do you form the opinions you have? Why do you practice your style of ethics? Where did this originate?  Does it need changing?  This openness to studying yourself is Svadhyaya. And this entire Biblical episode could be viewed as Jesus in self-study.  Certainly, he has his opinion changed or refined, certainly his love of all, not just Israel, is shown.

5.       Ishvara Pranidhana or Surrender In describing Ishvara Pranidhana Adele* uses these lead words: Releasing, Engaging, Accepting, and Devotion. One could consider this Surrender akin to Samadhi or loss of a sense of self as described in last week’s post as the disciples surrender to Jesus, Son of God, as he climbs in the boat after his walk on the water.  The Canaanite woman also surrenders to Jesus, and Jesus surrenders to her in healing her child and ultimately giving his life for all our sins.

The story shows Jesus teaching the disciples both through parable and action to live their best lives, to be clean in thought, word, and deed.  To love all, heal, listen with an open mind, and constantly be learning. We all could benefit from these lessons in living the Ten Commandments, Yamas and Niyamas.

*The Yamas and Niyamas Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele
Picture: The Canaanite Woman from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry – In the U.S. Public Domain


  1. This particular is usually apparently essential and moreover outstanding truth along with for sure fair-minded and moreover admittedly useful My business is looking to find in advance designed for this specific useful stuffs… Guided Meditation for Deep Sleep and Relaxation