20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
WOMAN TEACHES JESUS
Mat 15: 21-28 (RSV)
St. Luke tells us that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – 12 years old at the time – attended the feast of Passover in Jerusalem. On the way home after the feast, the parents noticed the boy was not with them. He was not among relatives and friends either. They went back to Jerusalem and found him in the temple courts among the teachers listening to them and asking questions. Mama Mary subtly reprimanded the boy who learned a valuable lesson in family relations. The family returned to Nazareth where “… Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man. (Luke 2:52 NAB)”
Jesus the man would learn more lessons in family and social relations that would enable him to teach well, proclaim the Kingdom of God well, and, through healing the sick and feeding the hungry, give signal proofs that the Kingdom has begun and was present in and among the people. Jesus grew in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom – in communicating with people of town and country, in clashes with powers of village and temple, market, and state, in the formation of disciples and apostles, and in processes of struggles of his heart, in the way of the cross. The judgment would be that he did all things well – to open people to the largeness of life, to love of neighbor, and presence of a caring God. To righteousness. To the joy of living: “They have no wine,” was Mama Mary’s subtle suggestion/order at the wedding feast in Cana. And Jesus gave the newly-weds and the guests the best wine served last. Another crucial lesson from Mama Mary.
Where was Jesus slow in the school of the Lord’s service? To be close to the poor, the orphan and the widow, the “little ones” – he got that right basically from the beginning. (Luke 4:18-19). But, IMHO, it was in the area of being all things to all men and women -- especially to women that he must have found some difficulty. Jesus at the start of his ministry learned to get out of the cultural confines of racial, religious, and gender prejudice and discrimination. He was a Jew: To what extent was he prejudiced against the Gentiles? He was a man: To what extent did he distance himself from women, and especially from pagan women? Who exposed to him his limitations in this regard?
And so this non-incidental saving event of Jesus meeting the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman begging him to cure her daughter tormented by a demon. A Jew, a man, faces a Gentile-pagan woman. “Send her away,” the male-chauvinist Jewish disciples urge Jesus. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", Jesus tells the lady. But Jesus had already cured a centurion’s servant. Did Jesus compromise? The centurion had faith, Jesus would not enter a pagan home; the servant would be cured from a distance. An exception, not causing any scandal?
The woman, a mother to boot, is of strong will and faith, her humility simply amazing “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” So she knows his identity and is aware of his reputation as a holy man of good works. On her knees, she begs: “Lord, help me.” Jesus answers: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She is not turned off by his rudeness. Yes, Jesus is rude to this pagan woman. Some exegetes say no! Jesus is not rude. He uses an innocuous metaphor. For “dogs: his term is “kunarion,” household pet, and not the pejorative “kuon”, despised street dog / “askal” (cf. Matt 7,6). (Nil Guillemette, SJ). Mildly rude then?
In masterful repartee, a cunning woman counters. "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Eyes opened, Jesus answers her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
Jesus underestimated the lady graced by God with faith and winning humor. Nothing good comes from Gentiles and pagan women? Here she is, a sign and presence of the Kingdom of his word. Jesus learns the value of gender sensitivity and the power of a prayerful woman. He learns that though the house of Israel is of special priority, for now, the Kingdom is for all. He learns something beautiful from this Canaanite-Syrophoenician lady who pleads for wellness not for herself but for another. Jesus advances in wisdom and favor before God and a woman. Whatever trace of gender exclusivism is him disappears. He is a growing presence of God, a Jesus who in the fullness of time and space and righteous relationships will then be recognized as true Man and true God.
Is this event saving for me? Where am I in this scene? What word do I hear from Jesus, a man, and a Jew and from a smart pagan lady? Do I say to those who need my loving service: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the Church. Word and sacrament are for Christians only? Do I hold that salvation is only for those who accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, is for the well-to-do only whose economic blessings in life they believe are a sign that one is predestined to enjoy divine afterlife? Do I look down on Jews, Muslims, LGBTs and others who are not like me? How do I regard woman -- Canaanite-Syrophoenician, whatever. -- as an object of pleasure, a commodity, a non-citizen of the world, a second class person in the view of the Pharisees and Sadducees and priests and politicians and businessmen and scientists and soldiers of patriarchy and capitalist globalization? Have I ever prayed seemingly foolish in persistence and insistence for a cure for someone sick in body or mind or spirit?
Does the Canaanite-Syrophoenician woman teach me a thing or two? Do I send anyone like her away, because she bothers my conscience or my schedule? Am I a good learner as Jesus was? Do I dare engage God in witty conversation and make him laugh? Have I advanced in wisdom and stature and favor before God, women, and men? #
By Fr. Francisco R. Albano, Diocese of Ilagan