Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
- Matthew 15:21-28
Yesterday, we read that the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" -- 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' " When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch." Then Peter answered and said to Him, "Explain this parable to us." So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulterers, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Of today's entire reading, my study bible points out that "this story, of a humble Gentile woman who is tested and then praised by Jesus for her faith, is mentioned also in Mark 7:24-30 but with two major differences: (1) Matthew says the lost sheep of the house of Israel, while mark says only, 'Let the children be filled first.' (2) In Matthew the woman is recorded as shouting, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. The Jewish orientation of Matthew's version accounts for his concern to show Jesus as the Son of David, endowed with divine majesty even in His humanity." It adds that Jesus' answer to her shouldn't be construed as an insult. Rather it's a way to reveal "the treasure of the woman's faith. In her can be envisioned the future Gentile Church, the true Israel, coming to Christ."
Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. My study bible tells us that the faith and humility of this woman are shown in that Jesus' hesitancy was not enough to discourage her; and in her answer she goes with His metaphor - making herself analogous to the little dogs, calling the Jews master.
Frequently in Scripture we come to a place where we understand that what God desires from us is dialogue, relationship, communication. Prayer is nothing less than this, a way that we communicate with God -- a dialogue that must be seen properly as a two-way communication. Often, not everything in life goes the way we want it to! We may need, ourselves, to learn what humility is in a proper way and not get inflated with our own ideas about ourselves and our perfection. But what we find through prayer will be a kind of love that gives us truth -- with love, correction from a loving parent. In today's story, this woman has the right idea, but Jesus is quick to tell her that His faith is from the Jewish tradition, that He has been sent first to the Jewish people and speaks out of that tradition. It is her faith and her engagement with Him that creates the powerful opening of the new way that will characterize the Church. In yesterday's reading, we read how the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem criticized Jesus' disciples, and how Jesus' teaching was one that went beyond form and into the matters of the heart. Here, the woman's feisty retort -- but one that maintains the respect due to His words and His teaching -- tells us what is in her heart. She's not merely looking for a way to get Him to do what she wants. She acknowledges His teaching, calling herself a "little dog" or a puppy, one that pesters the children under the table for the crumbs that may come to it. If we look at this image carefully, it is one that tells us of Christ's love and inclusion. He has been sent first to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" -- and yet the compassion of Christ extends to the "little dogs" under the table, the ones who bark and plead and beg. She has shown by her persistence, and her humility, that she truly desires what He offers. She worshiped Him, we're told. Her faith is strong enough so that whatever He tells her, she is not put off. It's a true desire in her heart. The real opening to Jesus is in that true faith spoken in her words, her desire to engage, to have dialogue with Him. Life may not offer us everything we want. God may not give us the greatest place at any particular table, but if we speak from the heart God's love responds to include each one of us. Our boundaries and barriers may shift and change with time, Christ's Church has gone everywhere and to everyone, but we still need to remember this story. Whatever our nominal "group" -- whatever we may find correct in one place and another -- let us remember the earnest sincerity of this woman and her humility before Christ, and how she is included in the bread He offers, even the crumbs under the table that feed the little dogs. We look back to the feeding of the five thousand in our recent reading, and remember the twelve baskets that remained, one for each disciple to take to the world. Let us never lose sight of who is included in this gift, the power of sincere heart and faith, and dialogue with God.