February 9, 2012
Let's look at today's gospel. It is the first of several stories we will read in the next few days about Jesus leaving Jewish territory to venture into Gentile lands. Of course some might have questioned why into the Gentile territories. Some scholars believe this happened because there were people there that marveled at Jesus' healing powers. They recognized that Jesus did minister to those who brought their problems to him. His reputation had preceded his very footsteps into different territories.
The first stop is a place where he encounters a Greek woman who was by her birth a Syro-Phoenician. Like any mother, this woman had to bring the case of her seriously ill daughter to any doctor, any healer who could bring her back to good health. In this incident Jesus responds in a way that seems somewhat unusual. Let the children be fed first and then the dogs! And what does this mean to a mother whose child is sick? Is the man crazy? Simply it is this: first and foremost Jesus wishes to minister to the children of his faith, the Jewish children. After that, he says, feed the dogs. Feed the dogs? What about this sick child? Well, it was the tradition among some Jewish people to refer to the Gentiles as "dogs" because these people were not like the tradition-tied Jews when it came to dining. Jewish laws placed great demands on the people as to what and how they ate. The Jews felt the Gentiles, the "dogs," would eat anything. The woman's response to Jesus' words can be understood as her playful attitude toward Jesus. "Jesus, the dogs under the table where the children eat don't have to wait to eat ... the children drop treats under the table for the dogs." Even the dogs get a little to eat before the children finish their meal.
What a story of faith. What a quick reply to her request. Her faith has brought healing to her daughter. This event is a "message" to the Gentiles that Jesus does not have parameters that would keep him from helping non-Jewish people. His mercy and love extends to all people.
So the question we might consider today especially in a world and culture that has become so mixed with folks of so many different national backgrounds and religious affiliations, do we open our hearts to those who do not repeat with us "I believe in one God ...?" Are we a people of good will?