Did you feel uncomfortable hearing today’s gospel? You’re not alone. However, it’s only when considered as a human equal would the words of Jesus in today’s gospel appear callous, indifferent and insulting. But when we consider that He was the first to strip Himself of His truly exalted nature to take an inferior nature as human, we’ll then see Him as one who levels with outcasts, bringing them the exalted gift of faith. While Jews called Gentiles “dogs,” Jesus used the word “kynarion,” which is the Greek for household dog or puppy—regarded as man’s best friend—in His statement: “It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to dogs.” Rather than understand it as an insult, the woman heard for the first time that Jews and Gentiles can co-exist in the same house and capitalized on the statement as an invitation into the Household of God. The woman represents all those of Gentile descent (i.e., all of us) who would not only qualify for the scraps but actually are invited to dine with the children in the Kingdom Table. It becomes rather a privilege to be “God’s household dog” because by the redemptive act of Christ, we too have been adopted into God’s family. Through this conversation, Jesus gives the first signal that the Gentiles are part of God’s household and included in His plan of salvation. Faith is to become the yardstick of inclusion, no longer blood; hence, he affirms the great faith of the woman and grants her the food of the children, namely, answer to her prayers. Recall that last Sunday He, in contrast, called even Peter “a man of little faith” (14:31).
The Canaanite woman has much to teach us in this exchange. We often demand things from God, and get angry when we’re not getting our way (not that God isn’t answering us). Some deny Him existence to prove theirs, as if it adds or removes anything from God whether or not you believe in Him. But we can’t survive outside His love. By attending to the woman’s need and healing her daughter, Jesus shows that God’s love extends to even those we think He shouldn’t love. We sometimes feel entitled to God’s gifts; maybe because we’re cradle Catholics and God has equipped us with all the necessary means of salvation. That doesn’t imply that God hates the Baptists, the Mormons, the Hindus, the Muslims and Buddhists. Some claim exclusive possession of Christ. Here in our country, you may have heard of so-called Christians who think and say that Catholics aren’t Christians. They believe that they alone possess the yardstick of inclusion with which to measure who is or is not a Christian. And for some, the yardstick of inclusion is color, language, race, and originating from a given geographical boundary. For all who think that way, Isaiah has this line from today’s first reading: “God’s house will be a house of prayer for all peoples.”
We are invited today to unlock in each of us love, mercy and compassion, recognizing that each of us is, in ways we can’t imagine, a ‘perfect fit’ of the purpose for which God made us. When we ask God to bless our home, our family, our country, we shouldn’t forget to add other families, the poor, the immigrant, and those we reject and call names. God bless America, but also Canada, Mexico, Haiti, Russia, Zimbabwe, Syria and Iran. Or tell me why you think He shouldn’t bless them?