11 February 2015

Even the dogs eat the children's scraps

5th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

I'll start with a rather blunt assertion: No, the Greek woman in this evening's gospel does not teach Jesus a lesson about inclusivity nor does she “open his eyes” to the needs of the Gentiles. To believe that the woman somehow enlightens our Lord with a clever retort assumes that Jesus—the incarnated Son of God—doesn't know about or understand his universal mission as the Messiah. It makes more sense—given what we know from the other gospels—to conclude that Jesus slowly reveals the fullness of his mission over time. He repeatedly orders those whom he healed to keep their healing a secret. He also refuses to perform miracles on occasion and sometimes takes his disciples off to teach them in private. These examples seem to indicate that though Jesus wants his identity widely known, he also wants to keep the exact nature of his ministry something a mystery. . .at least until his earthly ministry comes to an end on the cross. If all of this is true, then what are we to make of his exchange with the Greek woman? Like in the story of the centurion with the sick slave, the story of the Canaanite woman, the story of the man born blind, and many others—Jesus is challenging the Greek woman to publicly declare her faith, to lay claim to her inheritance as a child of God.

And what is this inheritance? Generally, she has inherited the privilege of prayer, that is, the grace to approach the Father through His Son and ask for what she needs for herself and her family. As a member of God's family, she has access to the Father. She has been gifted with the desire to praise Him, to thank Him, and to grow spiritually while doing so. By openly, freely acknowledging her trust in God's promises, the Greek woman openly, freely acknowledges God's power to accomplish in her life and the lives of her loved ones every good they need to thrive as holy creatures. We know all of this to be true b/c the moment she says to Jesus, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps,” the demon is exorcised from her daughter. 

Take note of not only the woman's admission of faith but also how she characterizes herself and her fellow Gentiles—all of those who need God's mercy through Christ. Rather than rear up in righteous indignation at Jesus' apparent insult—calling them “dogs”—the woman takes on the derisive label and admits to Jesus that “even the dogs” get scraps! This isn't exaggeration or just plain ole self-effacement. She is confessing genuine humility. Had she been playing word games with Jesus or trying to teach him a lesson, her confession of faith would have been emptied out and her daughter would not have been freed from the demon. What our Lord hears in the woman's plea is authentic love, authentic faith, and authentic humility—all gifts from the Father. These are what make her a member of God's family not her tribe or race or nation. 

The Greek woman recognizes and publicly acknowledges her need for God's blessings. As children of God, we too have access to the Father through Christ. When you pray, do you pray with genuine love, faith, and humility? Do you receive God's blessings with gratitude, openly and freely acknowledging your dependence on Him? When blessed by God as a child of God, do you multiply your blessings by sharing them with others? I hope so! Remember: even the dogs eat the children's scraps.

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