In today’s Gospel it seems like Jesus is having a bad day. Instead of welcoming this “outsider,” a Syrophoenician woman he callously replies, “…it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Like so many people before her in the Gospel this woman comes and falls at Jesus’ feet and asks for healing for her daughter who is possessed by a demon. Most of the others who have petitioned Jesus for healing were Jews whereas this woman is a Gentile. Jesus even seems to refer to Gentiles as “dogs” when he declares that food is for the children (Jews) and should not be thrown to the dogs (Gentiles). What makes Jesus’ replay even more shocking is that he has just taught that nothing from outside can defile a person or make them unclean but now he seems to treat this woman as unclean:
“’Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?’” Thus, he declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:18-19)
The Syrophoenician woman challenges Jesus to be true to his own teaching with her clever reply, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Jesus responds to her challenge and heals her daughter.
This story is a shocking and embarrassing story if we don’t take seriously the full humanity of Jesus. The Church teaches that Jesus was fully human and divine. On the human level he would have inherited some of the “blinders” of his culture and religion. Jesus first impulse was to restrict his mission to Israel alone: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24). God, his heavenly Father, challenged him to widen his horizon to expand his mission to all peoples and nations. In today’s Gospel God is challenging Jesus through this Gentile woman. You are I are also challenged to recognize the “blinders” in our own life, they may be cultural or even religious. We are challenged to throw off these blinders that make us think we can restrict God’s love and compassion. No one is excluded, no one is unclean in God’s eyes, Jesus’ mission is to all people: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-19).
Image: “Jean-Germain Drouais – The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ” Louvre Museum | Credit: Louvre Museum via Picryl.com | PDM 1.0 DEED.