Gospel Mt 15:21-28
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.
A Desperate Love Without Borders
Did I just hear what I read? Jesus ignores a desperate woman with a demon possessed child and then he says, “It is not right give the children’s food to the dogs.” At first glance, this story might seem demeaning to women; she was ignored, pushed away, and was considered no more than a dog. Jesus disturbs us with his actions and his words today.
Jesus continues on his journey north until he is at the border near Tyre and Sidon surrounded by Gentiles. The disciples likely had no idea where he was going or why he was heading north into Gentile territory. I’m sure they thought Jesus was out of bounds!
The Canaanite woman approaches Jesus as he moves along the border. One can imagine the hostility between the Jews and the Canaanites; it was like the rancor between Jews and Palestinians or some Texans (or "Ameircans") and Mexicans today. As Jesus walks along the border near Tyre and Sidon, the woman calls him Lord and Son of David.
But Jesus represented all that the Canaanites despised. One can almost see a showdown Jesus and his disciples are on one side of the border while the Canaanites are on the other side – with the poor woman and her possessed daughter caught up in the ugly war of political and theological differences, trapped between two worlds, likely cast away by her own people because of her possessed daughter, hence her reason for dwelling at the border of her country.
Jesus was her last great hope. Yet Jesus ignores her cries. Jesus’ silence must have been deafening! Then Jesus’ disciples add insult to injury; they are desperate to get rid of her! “Send her away! She’s embarrassing us. You can’t have riff-raff following you around. You have a godly reputation to keep. Pretty soon all the gentiles will want to follow you and have a share in the kingdom of God.”
She couldn’t win, she was despised by everyone. She was completely abandoned. She had thrown herself upon the mercy of the Lord God only to hear nothing. But Jesus’ silence and his disciples’ ugliness did not deter her from calling upon the Lord!
Imagine this woman’s desperation. We do not have a lot of information about her, but sorrow filled her life. Her daughter had gone to the dark side of demonic possession. One also wonders where her husband was in all of this. Perhaps he had abandoned her as a result of the nuisance of a troublesome daughter and all the difficulty she caused their marriage. Or maybe the woman was a widow and had no one to rely on. Her life and that of her daughter must have been as desperate as we can imagine! Lack of financial means, emotional pain, fear and exhaustion! And now spiritual abandonment! The worst thing imaginable.
And yet in this woman’s desperation she keeps getting pushed away! She is longing to belong, she is longing for happiness, and is will do anything for her daughter – even seek the God of Israel. She throws herself on the ground in front of Jesus and begs for mercy, but he tells her he is on a mission to the lost sheep of Israel.
Certainly one of the disciples should have been troubled by the way Jesus was treating this woman. Or was he trying to get their attention by acting like them?
Jesus then says, “It is not right to throw the food of the children to the dogs.” So now she is reduced to a dog.
Maybe it was a common cliché tossed around like “It is not right to take the wealth of the rich and throw it to the poor” or “The poor are poor because they lack morals,” or “America is for Americans.”
It is clear that the disciples did not want Jesus crossing into any unfriendly territories, or going into the wrong neighborhoods or, God forbid, crossing any borders.
Yet Jesus’ mere presence along the border of Tyre and Sidon is teaching his disciples that all territories and lands are the Lord’s and all peoples are called into the Kingdom of God. It is the good news that never grows old.
Yet there are borders that we put up between ourselves and the Lord. We may think we know we have all the answers, we think that certain people are not good enough, we may consider certain attitudes tolerable or acceptable, or we may be guilty of placing ourselves first when others are clearly in more need. Or we may have preconceived notions of who God is or believe that one can only be a real Christian if one has a particular socio-political or theological view. Or what I see so much of today is the idea that one has to be perfect before one can be a Catholic or a Christian. How sad! Christ came to call the unworthy – and that includes all of us!
A closer look at this wonderful Canaanite woman reveals to us an example of a Mother’s love for her children. A love that protects at all cost, even to the point of ridicule. “Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
The woman was not distracted from her mission: saving her daughter from the demon. This Gentile woman fulfilled her mission, because of her boldness in faith, love for her child, and trust in a merciful God. And she was willing to even accept the scraps from the table of the master, all for the love of another human being.
The woman’s persistence shows that Jesus is accessible to all people–even those along the borders, on the fringes of society, the marginalized.
There are still Canaanites in our midst: outsiders who some people would rather ignore and send away, and women and men who are bearing great family burdens, and those who have suffered great losses, yet still come to church, kneel in the pew and remain faithful to the Lord, despite their doubts and questions, they still cling to their faith.
Jesus dared cross established borders that his disciples wanted to keep, and ministered to the one who called upon him in faith. And the woman found acceptance across the forbidden border.
We are called to be like Christ.
Jesus allowed this woman to enter his world.
This one act changed everything.
Jesus is changed by the encounter with this woman of faith.
And so are his disciples.
And so are we.
All are welcome to enter the House of the Lord! All are invited to His table!
This woman turns Jesus' ministry to the gentiles, the non-Jews. She not only wants to enter the House of Israel, but she wants to sit at the table of the Lord, and is willing to accept the lowest place in the house – even if it is as a desperate dog.
The woman only wanted a crumb of bread from the Master’s table.
She was desperate to belong.
She was desperate for the Lord.
How desperate are we?