The Power of Holistic Healing

7 comments Written on June 3rd, 2014     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Dominique DuBois Gilliard is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary where he also served as an adjunct professor. Dominique currently serves on the CHIC council, is the director of the Journey to Mosaic Squared, and is an ECC pastor in Oakland California. In addition to his work within the ECC, Dominique is an active member of the Christian Community Development Association, serving on both the association’s national theology task-force and its faith and public education council. You can follow Dominique on Twitter: @@WEB_DuBois_Ture 

How does one best care for marginalized people, those who have been isolated from community, stigmatized by society, and even neglected or wounded by the Church? This question has dwelt within my soul. It has inspired me to study the Bible in deeper, more focused ways. It led me to seminary and while there, it lingered on. It led to me taking courses which explored issues of individual and social brokenness that bred marginality and isolation. I asked hard questions within these courses, inquires which could not be pacified by the prototypical Sunday school responses. I read, researched, and wrote on these issue, all in a diligent pursuit to answer this one question.

Along the way, I had a few revelatory moments, but I also became intrigued by a biblical character who I believe personifies everything I was wrestling with, the nameless Canaanite woman of Matthew 15: 21-28. While theologians have correctly articulated how her interaction with Jesus foretells the gentile inclusion into the mission and kingdom of God, this text has more to say to us than just this. First, a close reading of the text mandates that we ask a few questions; what are the scriptural implications of being a Canaanite, nameless, and the parent of a demon possessed child?

Biblical scholar Craig Keener says that the Canaanites are depicted as “the bitter biblical enemies of Israel whose paganism had often led Israel into idolatry.”[i] Another scholar writes, “[the nameless woman] is a member of the condemned Canaanites who are to be offered to the Lord as a whole burnt offering of purification of the land to God.”[ii] However, this negative depiction of Canaanites is not the only legacy Scripture provides. In fact, two Canaanite women, Tamar and Rahab, are included in the direct genealogy of Jesus. This is significant because Tamar’s life symbolizes one of the most victimized scriptural realities, and Rahab illustrates one of the most unlikely characters of biblical faithfulness, not only because of her vocation, but also due to the marginalization and stigmas it caused.[iii] The fact that these two women are both Canaanites, yet are directly included within the traceable lineage of Christ is not coincidental, nor is the fact that this nameless woman’s ethnic and gendered identity is also that of a Canaanite woman. Through incorporating these women within the direct lineage of Christ, Scripture illustrates how Jesus literally becomes identified with their marginalization, and, as is the case with sin, Christ takes on their marginalization.

We know the kind of social stigmatization that accompanied demon possession through the numerous New Testament accounts of those ostracized from society because of this label. However, Jesus who is finally won over by this woman’s perseverance, faith, and insistence upon her child’s restoration at the end of this passage refuses to abide by the commodifying logic of his culture, time, and place. Jesus not only heals the daughter, but provides restoration that far surpasses this woman’s request. Through the restoration that Jesus grants, both the nameless woman and her daughter are free to experience life anew socially, culturally, and relationally. The holistic nature of the restoration that Jesus provides not only liberates this woman’s daughter from demons, but also offers them both access, as well as all other Gentiles, to everlasting life with God. Moreover, as this passage concludes, ethnicity no longer serves as a barrier to entering the kingdom of God. Those who were once far, are brought near. Canaanites are no longer to be seen or treated as bitter enemies (although many persist in seeing them this way due to depravity), but are now to be embraced as brothers and sisters. This is how Jesus cared for marginalized people, those isolated from community and stigmatized by society, and as the Church today, we are called to go and do likewise.[iv]

Empowered by the Spirit, we can resuscitate dry bones, renew hope, and foster new life, reconciled life with God and neighbor. But we must be willing to be transformed, to take on the mindset of Christ, to authentically do this work. At the beginning of this passage, the disciples tell Jesus to send this nameless woman away; is this the way we are responding to marginalized women as the Church today, to the Tamar’s, Rahab’s and women who feel nameless within our midst? Do the Tamar’s of our day, women sexually abused and violated by those closest to them, see the Church as a place of restoration? Do the Rahab’s of our time, women stigmatized because of their vocation as prostitutes or other socially shunned work, feel welcomed, loved, and accepted within our midst? Do defamed women who feel nameless throughout society, still feel anonymous, unacknowledged, and unloved when they enter the Church, or are they known, empowered, and restored by the love of God that we embody and illuminate?


[i] Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 415.

[ii] Stephen Humphries-Brooks, “The Canaanite Woman in Matthew,” 141. Also see Judges 2:3-5; 21-23.

[iii] Matthew 1:3, 5.

[iv] Luke 10:37.

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    7 comments “The Power of Holistic Healing”

    Dominique, your questions challenged me to reframe the word ‘church’ and ask the same questions this way: Is this the way I respond to marginalized women today? To the Tamar’s, Rahab’s and women who feel nameless around me? Do the Tamar’s today, women sexually abused and violated by those closest to them, see me as a person who will walk with them and advocate for their restoration? Do the Rahab’s of our time, women stigmatized because of their vocation as prostitutes or other socially shunned work, feel welcomed, loved, and accepted by me? Do defamed women who feel nameless throughout society, still feel anonymous, unacknowledged, and unloved by me? Are they known, empowered, and restored by the love of God that I embody and illuminate? When I must confront my personal need of confession and repentance then and only then do I believe there is hope for the church. Thank you.

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    Dominique,
    I have to say that I am most impressed with the eloquence of your writing and the depth of your thought.  You will be able to touch many people.  One thought I will add is that we all have a responsibility as Christians to reach out to those who are marginalized by a society that is careening away from God at a frightening pace.  The poor historically have been a people who relied on God as that was all they had to sustain themselves.  One great danger today is there are people who would break that bond with God and replace it with the god of government.  The self-worth that imbues a person with Christ as their center is destroyed when that reliance is transferred to government.  As Christians, and the church, we need to help redirect that focus to Christ and “teach them to fish” so they can break the cycle of dependence on Government.  I look forward your future endeavors.

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    “At the beginning of this passage, the disciples tell Jesus to send this nameless woman away.” This statement, this quote, stood out for me. The disciples were direct in their disdain. And it was “OK” because that was their context; an example of institutionalized discrimination. How long did they have to think about it before the words spewed from their mouths? Nanoseconds? It just got me to wondering how institutionalized discrimination within our “groups” becomes. So much so that there is no thought. It just is and everyone knows it and accepts it because it is normal. Thus in this passage, all the disciples were in one accord. Jesus stood alone. So I think how much we need to hone our senses to truly realize who we have marginalized and have yet to recognize. 

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    Dominique, Thank you for your eloquent, compassionate and challenging thoughts!  As you said, “Through the restoration that Jesus grants, both the nameless woman and her daughter are free to experience life anew socially, culturally, and relationally.” As the Church, and as individual Christians, we need to ask ourselves…. “Are we lovingly welcoming all people who have been set free through Jesus Christ, or are we further imprisoning people in lives of pain? Let us live as people who believe and affirm John 8:36 “If  the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!”

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