- Genesis 45:1-5
- Psalm 133
- Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
- Matthew 15 (10-20), 21-28
Midway through this green season of Pentecost, we are reminded about what it means to be church. Today we go deeper, as Jesus points out how little his followers understand what God’s meaning of discipleship is all about. Nothing substantive resides in what “goes into” the mouth; it is what comes out that matters. This is a contested issue among “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” as Jesus calls those to whom he believes he has been sent.
Jesus teaches his disciples that true purity is a matter of the heart rather than outward religious observances. Almost immediately, this teaching is tested when a woman considered to be pagan and unclean (a Gentile) approaches him for help.
Today’s Gospel is about one of Jesus’ most difficult encounters. He initially rejects the needy Canaanite woman. Words coming out of his own mouth shun her aside. She demands to be helped at the top of her voice. Jesus ignores the noise – is he exempt from the defilement about which he cautions the disciples?
Women of that day – let along foreign women – had no business talking with men, especially in broad daylight. Yet she did. Women did not argue with men who dismissed them summarily out of hand. Yet she did. Jesus never told anyone who came to him in need to “get lost; it isn’t fair to take children’s food and give it to dogs.” Yet she took the rebuke.
In three separate appeals to him, the Canaanite woman professes nothing but faith in him. Did she go away sorrowful, tearful? She gives it right back to Jesus. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” If this was held in a boxing ring, she would have scored major points. It is not until he manages to get her to talk normally that he can reach out to help. At last, Jesus apparently hears her and recognizes that her words prove her worthiness.
The woman’s faith is the decisive factor. It transcends her gender, her race, and salvation history itself. She will not be dissuaded; and Jesus’ final words to her are approving. The faith of this woman is in sharp contrast to the unbelief of the Jews as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 is foreshadowed.
- How do today’s text connect with the immigration issues facing the United States today?
- Who are the Canaanite women of our time? Several movies portray the life of outcasts: Spanglish (Sony, 2004) and A Day Without a Mexican (Xenon, 2004) show the lives of immigrants trying to be part of society. Water (Mongrel Media, 2005) delves into the lives of women in India who are shunned because they are widows. Whale Rider (South Pacific Pictures, 2002) portrays a young Maori girl who is an outcast but has a call to be the chief of her people.
- How was Jesus, as well as his ministry, challenged and changed by his encounter with this unnamed woman?What do we learn about Jesus himself here?
- Who are the marginalized in our own world, and how are we called to respond to them?
- In his letter to the Romans, Paul also speaks of God’s acceptance and mercy for all. What are we as individuals and as the Church called to do?