Offers food for thought
The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Contrary to many ‘theology light’ interpretations of these Scriptures, this is not a lesson in how the mind of Jesus was changed by this woman, and suddenly he realized that salvation should be extended beyond the chosen people. This is not a story of how Jesus the ‘racist’, ‘ethnic purist’ had his heart melted and his understanding changed by a really nice Canaanite who was suffering terribly because of the suffering of her daughter. This is not a story of how surprising it is that a woman in a gentile women in a pagan culture somehow came to have faith and be a disciple of Christ, before Christ got there. It’s also not a story of how Jesus tested the woman to see if she was worthy to be heard and given what she was asking for.
First and foremost, this encounter between the woman and Jesus, is an affirmation that God’s love and mercy is never withheld from someone who, although they may not be able to fully understand their desire and what moves them, is genuinely seeking God, seeking truth, and who are open to grace as they demonstrate that hallmark of faith, self-sacrificing love and humility. It is also a reminder of a particular law for the Jews. The interaction between Jesus and the woman is very much a word play that speaks to the expectation that Jews will not glean their own fields after the harvest but instead, leave that part of the harvest for the ‘outsider’, the ‘foreigner’. In Leviticus chapter 23 verse 22 we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’” When we consider this encounter, in light of Leviticus and that this event takes place soon after the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and shortly before the miracle of the feeding of the 4000… the beauty of this story becomes much more evident!
The woman, having found Jesus, pushes her way into the crowd and cries out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” She refers to Jesus according his proper titles of ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. Jesus didn’t turn toward her right away, but he could not help but hear in her cries what his heart most yearns to encounter in others, self-forgetful love and humility. She was so concerned for her daughter, that she was willing to make a humiliating public spectacle of herself. The life of her daughter is at stake and she won’t give up, as she continues to cry out, “Lord, help me,”. Jesus breaks his silence, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Undaunted, the woman replies: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” When Jesus hears this answer which immediately points to the Jewish law, he says, “Woman, great is your faith!” “Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.
The power of God working in the hearts and minds of ‘man’, brings down the walls we build between us. Through actions of humble self-sacrificing love and prayers for peace and healing, let the power of God be unleashed to cast out the demons that oppress the people of the world.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.