August 3, 2016
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 he did not say a word in answer to her.
His 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 him 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 her daughter was healed from that hour.
-Matthew 15: 21-28
Today's gospel can seem so harsh! And many people interpret it as such; who can really know Jesus' exact intent insinuating that this Gentile woman was a dog? Indeed, much ink has been spilled analyzing the passage, ranging anywhere from "Jesus was pointing out our worthlessness as sinners and we need to suck it up" to a hyper-analysis of the symbolism of dogs in Jewish culture.
But let's look at the episode through a lens I have mentioned before: Jesus' playfulness. Let's take the mental image of a woman overtaken with distress and anxiety and add another two ingredients: an unwavering confidence that the Lord would heal her daughter, and a smirk.
How different is this passage if, instead a series harsh rebukes, we now read it as intelligent banter between our Lord and his earthly daughter? Again, I am not claiming that this approach is more correct than others, but I often find it helpful to play through various "takes" of the same scene in my mind to get a more human picture of Jesus.
Fr. James Martin, SJ, gives more insight into the humanity of Jesus:
"But you could also ask: Why did Jesus speak so sharply? Was he testing the woman's faith? If so, it’s a harsh way of doing so, at odds with the compassionate Jesus that many of us expect to meet in the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus needed to learn something from the woman’s persistence: his ministry extended to everyone, not just the Jewish.
Or maybe he was just tired. A few lines earlier, in Mark's version of this same story, we read, "He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there." Perhaps the curt remark indicates physical weariness.
Whatever the case (and we’ll never know for sure) both possibilities—he is learning; he is tired—show Jesus’s humanity on full display here.
Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That meant that he had both a human and divine consciousness. That's hard to grasp, a mystery if there ever was one. But clearly he could learn. After all, the Gospel of Luke says that as a boy Jesus "progressed in wisdom." In other words, in his human consciousness, he learned."
If the Lord learned from those around him—sinners, beggars, persistent petitioners—how much more can we learn from those in our lives?
Let's pray in thanksgiving for challenging Scripture, and for an openness and humility to learn from those with whom we cross paths. May we all progress in wisdom for God's greater glory.
Praised be Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine.