How Jesus Faced a Dilemma and What We Can Learn from Him.
In a recent Gospel reading, a woman approached Jesus requesting help for her ailing daughter and Jesus snubbed her with an insult. Why did Jesus act so harshly towards this poor, distraught woman? And what can we learn from this confusing incident?
A broader look at this situation reveals some important clues. Initially, at the time of the meeting, Jesus was in foreign territory away from Galilee. Jesus knew that He was the long-awaited messiah for the Jews and that His identity was wrapped around this mission. Up until this day, Jesus had spent many months convincing His own people that God, His Father, sent Him to free them from the punishment of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.
This woman, a foreigner, seeking a cure for her possessed daughter, catches Jesus off guard. Everyone in this crowd knew the woman was not only a pagan, but also a descendant of the Canaanites, who were the prior owners of the land that God gave to the Jews as their promised land. If Jesus were the Messiah, He would know all this and understand the feelings of His chosen people? What will Jesus do?
Jesus knew that as the “son of David,” He was not her Messiah, but as the “son of God,” He knew that His Father’s salvation is open to everyone. Jesus had to consider His mission to the Jews and His Father’s desire that salvation be for all.
Besides, this woman doesn’t follow the law God gave to Moses or the sayings of the Torah! Jesus reflects on all these things, as He hears the Canaanite woman’s response. “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” Jesus hears these words uttered from her heart, and understands her true faith. Then, Jesus says in reply: “’O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.”
The cure is immediate, and this woman is to this day one of the most highly praised women in the gospel. Jesus responded to her deep-seated faith. It didn’t matter who or what she was. She expressed a faith uttered from the depth of her heart. Jesus recognized this and responded.
With this response, Jesus gave us a lesson for living in today’s diverse cultural world. Our Church today often experiences this same situation that Jesus faced with this Canaanite woman. She was not a Jew and did not follow the Mosaic Law. She did not read the Torah, but she did express deep faith. Was she deserving of salvation? Jesus then had to decide, as does the Church today.
What does the Church do with those who are not tied to our tradition, but believe and want to be saved too? This question forces the Church to expand its boundaries to make room for the outcasts and marginalized believers, those from our tradition and those not, but who nonetheless are sincere in their beliefs.
As followers of Jesus we too should listen to words spoken from the hearts of those who want Jesus, but come to Him on a different path: such as a loving grandson who announces he is gay or friends and relatives in second marriages who have found peace and happiness after a rancorous first marriage. And though faithful daily in the practice of their faith, they long to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Do we push them away? Or do we listen as Jesus did to the words from their hearts and comfort them as Jesus did the Canaanite woman?
Jesus never said it would be easy to follow Him. He simply said, “Follow me.” He wants His baptized followers to stand for Him where He cannot. His mission is now our mission. So, we pick up His mantle, remembering that Jesus wants everyone to have a chance to be saved. And we listen, as Jesus does, helping Him the best we can to meet His goal.