Just a word… Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Just a word… Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time… August 16, 2020

Did you cringe when you heard Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman who was pleading with him to heal her daughter? “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” These are pretty harsh words from the Jesus we know to be a compassionate healer, a champion of justice, a restorer of human dignity. What gives?

What is it about this persistent, noisy woman that goads Jesus into being rude, practically calling her a “dog?” There is history here…the Jews and the Canaanites were ancestral enemies, and if that wasn’t enough, the woman was creating a disturbance; the disciples were asking him to send her away. In addition, Jesus had it in his mind that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and she is clearly not one of them. Case closed…and yet, she persisted.

The theologian John Shea posits that the woman engaged her “persistent creativity to bring about the good,” in this case, her daughter’s return to health. Seeing that her pleading isn’t working, the unnamed woman changes tactics, moving on from calling Jesus, Lord, Son of David, indicating his Jewish roots, she proceeds to simply calling him Lord, and abandoning any pride, begs, please Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps from the table of their masters. Her expression of faith in his ability to heal awakens Jesus into the realization that his mission might be wider than just to the house of Israel. And once again, a strong, determined Canaanite woman (think Tamar, Rahab, Ruth) is playing her part in salvation history.

So, what is the point here for us? Is it to encourage great faith? Is it a lesson in perseverance? Probably both. But I wonder if it might also be to show us that even Jesus, who was so like us in his humanity, had to open his mind a little wider and figure out what the Father was revealing to him through an unlikely mouthpiece. It makes me wonder how God might be using other unlikely persons or situations to open our minds, to stir our hearts and to advance the unfolding of the kingdom.

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