– Wednesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time –
But [the Canaanite woman] came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [Matthew 15:25-27]
There are Scripture readings which are more challenging for us to read – passages in which the distance between Jesus’ time, culture, and sensibility and ours is more strongly felt. This is such a one. Jesus reacts in a way that, to our contemporary Australian mindset, seems rude and insensitive.
So, what can we draw from this encounter for our lives of faith? From my own prayer on and with this Gospel story, I would name two aspects: first, that Jesus – our incarnated God – was just that – a historically situated, Jewish man who lived two thousand years ago. And while there is much about this human being that resonates with us instantly as how humanity is supposed to look like, because He is the one in whom we see the image of God, there is also some cultural difference between Him and us. It does not serve us well to try and ignore or dilute this difference. Perhaps “holiness” and “perfection” are not always how we imagine them. Perhaps even here, Jesus’ has something to reveal to us.
So in your own prayer, I suggest you name this. Mine sometimes looks like this: “Gosh, Jesus: what was that about?” or “I bet your mother was not impressed by that reaction!” or simply: “I don’t like your language much here, Jesus: what is this about?” God can handle our sincerity in prayer, and it need not break our trust in divine love, as long as we remain open. We do not need to understand someone fully, to love them.
Second, there is an invitation in this woman’s attitude. In a similar way to Mary at the wedding of Cana, this Canaanite woman stood her ground in faith, provoking the response she needed from Jesus! God loves us and knows what we need before we ask but does need us to be open and to ask. It is God’s way of respecting our freedom and allowing the Spirit into our lives! We need not be afraid to ask for what we need in prayer, and to wait, in fierce trust, for God to respond.
by Maeve Heaney