A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

The fact of the matter is that we often tend to operate in sterotypes when judging other people.   As mixed metaphors would have it,   “People sometimes paint with a wide brush.”   Also, because of our cultural presuppositions, we sometimes place people “in a box.”  This pre-judgement occurs when folks seem to act “differently.”

In the Gospel for the twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 15:21-28), the disciples take notice of a non-Jewish woman asking Jesus for a miracle.  She wants her daughter healed from demonic torment.  Most likely because she is a foreigner, the disciples see her as a “crazy lady,” thus putting her “in a box,” and ask Jesus to send her away.

But the lady is persistent.  However, Jesus remains silent and quite likely gives thought to the particular situation.  “Perhaps,” he possibly thinks, “this would be a good time to teach everyone a lesson.”  Then begins a sort of verbal fencing between Jesus and the woman.

Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Namely, those Jews who have lapsed in their faith system.  The woman again pleas for help hoping that that gesture would appeal to Jesus’ compassion.  Curiously, Jesus repeats his earlier statement of coming only to help the Jews,  but uses a different image.  From shepherding to a meal.

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  The intent of this comment was that Jesus’ ministry was intended for the Jews and not the Gentiles.  Then comes the zinger.  The Canaanite woman quickly replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat  the scraps that fall from the tables of their masters.”

Wow!  Jesus had no recourse to push his earlier point.  The lady had the last word.  In fact,  Jesus was so impressed that he declared, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done to you as you wish.”  And the miracle took place.

The woman got the last word because of her faith.  Why was this so?  Even in spite of her alien status, she truly believed in the power of Jesus.  No doubt this faith developed because of what she had seen and heard about Jesus.

Undoubtedly we can learn something from the above Gospel.  It seems to me that one of the key concepts would be the virtue of persistence.  Persistence really means that one does not easily take “no” for an answer.  There are several examples of this.  For instance,  there is prayer.  We usually pray to God when we want something.  The answer may be “no” or “maybe.”  However, reflecting on this answer we maintain our persistence and ask again.  We have hope.  Perhaps a miracle might happen.

Remember that the woman was a Canaanite, a non-Jew, not one of the “chosen people.”  And because of her belief in Jesus she must have felt like an outsider.  No doubt it was this belief in Jesus that eventually led to a miracle.  Persistence often leads to Hope.  In spite of being placed “in a box” by the disciples, she persisted in her request and got what asked for.  Not a bad outcome for one having the last word.


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