Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A li'l bit of tough love from Jesus

Here's something that caught my attention from yesterday's Gospel reading (St. Matthew, 15:21-28, for those of you playing at home). I include the text--from the NAB, but use whatever you have handy--in italics and my comments interspersed throughout.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
We see Jesus doing this a lot. He speaks in public--often to SRO crowds--and then steps back to pray or to give a bit more "background" to His disciples.
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."
This is a very pivotal moment in Scripture. Here is a Canaanite woman who not only recognizes Jesus' divine nature but also His being the fulfillment of the Messianic covenant. Professional theologists--at least the good ones--often refer to this as a Very Big Deal.
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Notice what St. Matthew writes. Jesus did not say a word, but He didn't make a gesture to her or speak about her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him,"Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
Which is a vast improvement over wanting to call fire down upon those who bothered them.
He said in reply,"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
This is another Very Big Deal. Like the dog that didn't bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, what Jesus does NOT say is monumental. He does not say He was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but to them. Jesus is to fulfill the Messianic promise, but not ONLY fulfill the Messianic promise. The Messianic promise is the vehicle by which the light of Christ will radiate to the far corners of the world.
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
Even better! Not only does a woman (don't think this is lost on the patriarchal society of that time and place) who is not from Israel (don't think this is lost on them either) acknowledge Jesus as the awaited Messiah but by doing homage to Him, she acts upon that knowledge.
He said in reply,"It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
Christ does not refer to the house of Israel as the children and Canaanites (and Romans, Samaritans, Texans, Bulgarians, etc.) as dogs...although He certainly seems to give the impression he is saying that, He is testing the Canaanite woman.
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
The woman responds to the challenges Jesus places in front of her with persistent faith.
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.

The moral of this passage is twofold:

1- Once we have acquired the knowledge of Jesus as the Savior, we have to act in a manner markedly different than before we knew that. If you are driving on the highway at 70mph, your behavior should change once you see the sign that reads

Area Ahead
Speed Limit

This is what the woman does, she acknowledges Jesus' role and then (by doing the Homage Thing) acts accordingly.

2- The woman asks for Jesus' help, and He does not immediately respond. In fact, it seems as if He's never going to grant her request. But her faith--borne of her knowledge of who Jesus really is--will not allow her to quit. Perseverance in faith, that is something Jesus rewards.