20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 20, 2017)
Jesus’ encounter with the assertive, Canaanite woman seems a bit strange, even harsh until we probe more deeply.
At the very beginning, the story shows her as an outsider, an unnamed non-Jew who oddly greets Jesus as “Lord” and “son of David.” She asks for his help for her daughter. Jesus, at first, is speechless, for this outsider precisely identifies, recognizes him in his two relationships: “Lord” - his vertical relationship with his father and “son of David” - his horizontal relationship with fellow Jews.
He fell silent, perhaps open-mouthed. He seems to be stymied for the moment. His trouble is not with her; it is within himself – in his heart and mind. She asks for mercy; he counters that his ministry is to Israel. He identifies her as a dog, which was the slang word for non-Jews at that time. She asks again for help.
The woman not only persists, but also one-ups him: “Even dogs get the scraps from the master’s table.” She had the final word; she persisted in her conviction that not only could Jesus help her daughter, but also that Jesus would help her. This “outsider” displays more faith than many of the children of Israel.
Jesus himself appears to have a growth spurt in wisdom and knowledge and grace at this moment. Jesus expands his own view of the kingdom and of his ministry to include outsiders to the Jewish community. He was beginning to think “outside the box.” He now understands his mission more clearly. He had thought and said that he came to save the lost children of the tribe of Israel. Now he realizes from seeing this woman’s faith that there are no outsiders to his father’s kingdom because of ethnicity.
The story ends with Jesus holding her up as an example of faith. She ends with being one of the most highly commended persons in the gospels: “O woman, great is your faith.” We can learn several lessons.
Just as life experiences changed Jesus, our life experiences and our experience of Jesus changes us, both enable us to enlarge our vision.
Living Jesus means that we must leave our comfort zones and accept Jesus’ way of thinking and acting outside our box. We are constantly tempted to think inside our box, draw up lists of people who are okay and lists of folks whom God definitely does not love as much as he loves us. The irony is that we list not God’s priorities, but ours. Today, God is stretching us individually and communally to live God’s generous love.
Love, to be alive and remain vital, needs freshening. Creativity, creative love, is necessary for us to move ourselves out of our box. Jesus saw faith in the Canaanite woman. He needed to respond with his father’s and his love. He creatively expanded his own vision from exclusivity to inclusivity, from thinking/loving inside to outside the box. We have his example to move creatively from our current box thinking. He extended his healing to her daughter.
Experience with “outsiders” is one, potential learning experience. We can creatively expand our horizons in experiencing people. Some are different from us and have something to teach us if we are open, not afraid and not suspicious of outsiders.
Also, this unnamed Canaanite woman, like the unnamed roman centurion, like the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well is an anonymous foreigner of the Gospel who had to think outside her box and move forward. Each has profoundly influenced the course of Christianity. Each lit his / her little candle. We need to light ours.
Does this Gospel not challenge us to reflect both on our life experiences and to check on our in-the-box thinking?