Reading: Matthew 15. 21-28
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’
24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’
25 The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.
26 He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’
27 ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’
28 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.
In this reading, Jesus doesn’t seem to be consistent in his mission policy. He clearly mentioned that his mission was only for the Israelites, then granted the request of the Gentile woman. How can we best understand his response to this woman? To do this, we need to look at this Gentile woman. She was a Canaanite, a pagan, and more likely a Baal worshipper. And, she was from the land of Tyre and Sidon. In terms of her background, I don’t think any of them seems to give her a credit.
To the Jews, Canaanite means ‘enemy’, which had got a long history since the time of Abraham. And, even worse, she was from Tyre and Sidon. We know that in anywhere in the world, people have some kind of prejudices on some part of the country, or some part of the world. People tend to have a certain level of regional rivalry or regional favouritism, if you like. In those days, Tyre and Sidon were the personification of wickedness. They were the sin-cities, filled with immorality, corruption, and self-indulgence. So many times in the Bible, they were described as such. That was a terrible reputation. Usually, Jews didn’t have much to do with Gentiles, let alone the people from Tyre and Sidon. They wouldn’t talk to them, wouldn’t eat with them, and wouldn’t do any business with them. It’s because they thought they were the only chosen people, the elected. But, it’s a dangerous idea, not only in those days, but also today.
Jews had a special term to describe their feeling about the Gentiles; ‘koo-ohn’, which means ‘a dog’. But, it is not a pet, but a kind of scavenger, a filthy animal. Therefore, when the disciples saw this woman coming, that’s what they saw, ‘a dog’, and even worse, a dog from Tyre and Sidon, the wickedest land. So, they didn’t have any compassion on her, as she was just a nuisance. And, they just wanted to get rid of her, as she was not worthy of their Master’s attention. And, that troubled Jesus, because he knew what they had in mind. However, it seems so surprising and even strange to hear what Jesus said to this woman. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their DOGS.” He seems to act as if he is as good as his disciples. He doesn’t seem to care about this woman who is desperately seeking help to save her daughter. Further than that, we see him calling her a dog.
But, here, we need to carefully notice the word he used, ‘koonar-ee-on’, which means a little dog, a puppy. He didn’t use the word ‘koo-ohn’, a filthy dog. And, we all know how we treat a puppy as a pet. We feed them, shelter them, and care for them. They are like part of the family.
And, that was a crucial moment, and the woman never missed this chance, and wise and brave as she was, she made a brilliant reply, a clean counter punch, saying “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
We see her humbly accept to be called a dog, and humbly ask just a piece of blessing, some crumbs of blessing from God. And, it is granted, because she is also part of God’s family.
And, this is actually what the disciples needed to hear and what Jesus wanted them to know. That is, God loves even this woman they despised. Does this make his mission policy inconsistent? No. it doesn’t.
Rather, he is to fulfil the Word of God, as he comes to seek and save what was lost. Amen.
God of Love, how wonderful it is for us all to know that God loves us, no matter our background. Thank You that in the Kingdom of God we find radical welcome and inclusion for all, even ourselves. We delight in our Father’s love. In Your Kingdom there will be justice and peace, but we know that this is not the experience of everyone today. Bring Your Kingdom, Lord. Amen.