Jesus belongs to everybody:
All three readings today speak of the expansive and universal nature of the “Kingdom of God,” although God set the Hebrew people apart as His chosen race, He included all nations in His plan for salvation and blessed all families of the earth in Abraham (Gn 12:1-3). By declaring through the prophet Isaiah (the first reading), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” God reveals the truth that in His eyes there is no distinction among human beings on the basis of race, caste or color. The long-expected Messianic kingdom was intended, not only for the Jews, but for all nations as well. In other words, we all belong to one another; hence, there is no place for discrimination among God’s children. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 67) rejects all types of religious exclusivity: “Let all the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. For You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth, so that Your saving power may be known among all the nations.” In the second reading, Paul explains that, although the Jews were the chosen people, most of them denied the promised Messiah. Consequently, God turned to the Gentiles who received His mercy through their Faith in Jesus. In the Gospel story, Jesus demonstrates that salvation is meant for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews by healing the daughter of a Gentile woman as a reward for her strong Faith.
A pagan woman takes the initiative of approaching Jesus even though she doesn’t belong to the Jewish people. She’s an upset mother whose life has been one of suffering with a daughter tormented by a demon. She comes to him shouting: Lord, Son of David, take pity on me. Jesus’ first reaction is surprising. He doesn’t even seem to listen to her. In his mind, the hour has not yet come to bring the Good News of God to the pagans. But since the woman keeps insisting, he explains his reluctance: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
Still the woman doesn’t give up. Prepared to overcome every difficulty and resistance, in a bold gesture she prostrates at Jesus’ feet, stopping him in his tracks, and on her knees she just shouts out: Lord, help me. Jesus’ response is unusual and rather shocking. Though in that age the Jews called the pagans dogs without blinking an eye, his words sound offensive to our ears: It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs. Taking up his image the quick-witted woman dares to correct him from her point of view: Ah yes, Lord; but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table.
This Canaanite woman’s attitude deserves our admiration. Surely at the Father’s table everyone can be fed: the children of Israel and also the pagan dogs. Jesus seems to be thinking only about the lost sheep of Israel, but she too is a lost sheep. The One Sent by God cannot belong to the Jews only. He needs to belong to everyone and be for everyone. This he warmly accepts when faced by the woman’s faith. His response reveals both his humility and his greatness: Woman, you have great faith! Let your desire be granted. This woman discovers that God’s mercy doesn’t exclude anyone. The Good Father is above the ethnic and religious barriers that we humans have set up.
Our Lord Jesus recognizes the woman as a believer though she lives in a pagan religion. He even finds in her a great faith, not the small faith of his disciples whom he’s chided more than once as you of little faith. Any human being can come to Jesus confidently. He knows how to recognize their faith though they live outside of the Church. They will always find in him a Friend and a Teacher of life. We Christians need to rejoice that even today Jesus keeps drawing so many people who live outside of the Church. Our Jesus is bigger than our institutions. He keeps doing much good, even for those who have apparently left off attending church.
God’s mercy and love are available to all who call out to Him in Faith.
Fr. A. Francis HGN