20TH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME A
We have to understand that during his lifetime, Jesus limited his missionary activity to Israel and imposed the same limitation to his disciples. It was only after Christ’s ascension that the Gospel was preached outside Israel hence the Church became universal most especially during the missionary journey of St. Paul.
The drama between the woman and Jesus may sound odd to the present readers most especially if we do not understand the unusual actuations of Jesus. The woman was from Canaan, in other words for the Jews she was a foreigner. When Jesus was passing by that pagan territory the woman must have heard about him and shouted “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me; my daughter is tormented by a devil.” The woman acknowledged Jesus as a Jew by referring to him as the Son of David. She was pleading for her daughter who was sick. It was very unusual of Jesus who did not say a word in response to the woman. Because the woman was becoming an annoyance, the disciples pleaded with Jesus who expressed the limitation of his earthly mission, that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Now the woman bowing low before Jesus pleaded “Lord, help me.” But Jesus’s reply might have hurt not just the woman but also those who were non-Jews: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.” It is hard to believe that those words came from the very mouth of Jesus. Jesus may have sounded arrogant, discriminatory and dehumanizing when he likened the woman to a little dog. But as a mother the woman could take anything just to save her daughter. In all her humility, she did not only accept her like being a dog before Jesus and said “I am just asking for scraps that fall from the master’s table.”
For three times, the responses of Jesus to the plea of the woman might sound very negative because he was giving the woman opportunities to shine. Each time, the woman was rising above her limited self until she passed with flying colors the test of faith. Like all our mothers, she was willing to accept any humiliation for the sake of her daughter. It was the greatness of a mother’s heart that persevered throughout the difficult test. It was also because of her humble heart that the woman won this very difficult argument with Jesus.
How do we behave before God when we are praying for something? Aren’t we all beggars pleading for scraps that may fall from his table? Are we ready to accept humiliation even to the point of breaking away from our comfort zones? Maybe when we are in desperate need like the woman, status quo becomes irrelevant.
To save a person we love most, we can do the impossible even to the point of breaking our hearts. That’s what Jesus did when he died for us: his heart was broken so that all of us may eat not just the scraps that fall from the master’s table but that we as children may eat to our heart’s content. This invitation to dine in the heavenly banquet is not just for the Jews, for Christians but for all peoples because salvation is for all who trust.