Belief in Books - Horton Hears a Who

Matthew 15:21-28

Canaanite woman

21 From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all.

His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”

24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”

25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”

26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”

27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”

28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.


Summary of Horton Hears a Who

This is the story of an elephant who hears a cry of helper coming from a dust speck.  He soon learns that on that speck is a whole town of Whos.  In order to help them he places the speck on a clover.  The other animals in the jungle do not believe Horton and try and take the clover away.  Horton insists the Whos are there and that a person is a person no matter how small.  Finally, in the end the Whos make enough noise that the other animals do hear them and also realize their existence and their value and resolve to watch over the Whos as well.

Thoughts on the passage:

The role of Jesus in the story of Horton is played by Horton, the elephant who sees value in the smallest creatures of all.  What is interesting is that based on this passage in Matthew, Jesus also seems to be playing the role of the other animals who question the existence of, and the value of the Whos.  When asked for help, at first Jesus seems to give a very un-Christ-like answer.  Rather than saying yes, as he so often does, Jesus makes the claim that he comes, not for the her, but to help the Jews.  Why he does this is not really clear.  It could be he does it to test her faith, but even then it still seems a little cruel, and not something he always does.  What is his motivation behind it?

To be honest this is one of those texts I don’t have easy answers to.  Instead I am forced to rely on my faith.  It is my belief that Jesus is both good and wise.  While it is possible to read this as Jesus first being dismissive of the woman and then getting called out for his sexism and racism, I do not find that answer fulfilling.  I say this not because what Jesus says does not sound like prejudice, but because my faith tells me that Jesus is not capable of such prejudice.  With that in mind I am forced to look for other answers to why Jesus seems to act in so offensive a manner.

I then return to the words of the woman, “Son of David.”  She addresses Jesus as the Son of David.  In doing so she is buying into an understanding of Christ as a descendent of David and a part of the relationship between God and the Jewish people.  I wonder if this is the reason for Jesus’ seemingly harsh response.  His purpose is to understand and challenge her assumptions about who he is.  It is her, not him, that claims his exclusive nature as a part of the messianic story of the Jews.  For that reason, Jesus asks her why he should help her if his role is that of the Son of David and the savior of the Jews.  He wants to understand why she thinks he has anything to offer her.  Her belief is that God is greater than just one people or one race.  She believes that God’s grace is sufficient for all.  For that reason, her daughter is healed.

When we read stories and try to draw lessons of faith from them it can be easy to think of us as playing one role or another.  This is true when we read scripture and we look for our place in the text.  This is also true when we read children’s stories and look for lessons behind their fun-filled words.  We often make the assumption that we are meant to play one role in the story.  In the story, Horton is Jesus, who listens to us and believes in us no matter what.  In the story, the Caananite woman is the Whos, but she is also the animals that doubt the Whos.  She is the one seeking value, but she is also the one that is questioning her own value.

Too often, we are our own worst enemies.  There are lots of negative messages from the outside world that we can internalize.  We heard them as kids when we were picked on for being short, fat, dumb, tall, blonde, geeky, whatever.  We heard those messages and took them to heart.  Far more damaging however are the voices within us.  They are the ones that whisper those same words over and over again.  We start to wonder if we have any value.  We hear about someone like Jesus but we have a hard time believing that he would have time for us.  We are dogs, we are nothing, fit only for the scraps that are left.

We have to remember that God does not see us that way.  We have to believe that even scraps of God’s grace are more than sufficient for our needs.  We have to stop thinking of ourselves as less than.  Jesus does not challenge the woman because he thinks less of her.  Jesus challenges the woman because she thinks less of herself.  God created us all, looked at us, and called us very good.  God loves each and every one of us and calls us each by name.

A person is a person no matter how small.  That is the refrain of Horton.  Over and over we hear it and yet we struggle to practice it.  We struggle when we think less of those people who disagree with us.  We struggle with it when we turn first to judgment rather than grace.  We struggle with it when we look in the mirror and see our brokenness, our flaws, and our less-thans.  We are not dogs waiting for the scraps from the table.  We are all children, invited to join in God’s feast.  Let us remember that about each other and let us remember that about ourselves.

Questions to Ponder:

When is a time you have thought of yourself as less-than?

Who is someone you know who excels at treating everyone equally?

What do you need to do this week to be remind that everyone (including you) is a beloved child of God?



Christ, you invite each of us to the table.  You call us all brothers and sisters, children of God.  Help us to remember that we are beloved.  Forgive us when we think less of ourselves or others that we should.  Help us to see us with the eyes of God, the eyes of love.  Amen