I’m struck by the mother’s seeming refusal to be offended by Jesus calling her a “dog”.
A word of background would be helpful. For the Jews at the time of Jesus there was a clear understanding of themselves as “The Chosen People”. God, through the prophets and Patriarchs (Moses), had called them from among all the people of the earth to be His special people (the prophet Hosea says God “espoused”/married the Jews). Everyone else was a “gentile dog”.
That’s just the way they talked. We hear remnants of that way of speaking with soldiers, teammates, or ethnic group referring to each other in rough insulting ways.
So Jesus was simply speaking with the common under-standing of the day. Gentiles were “dogs”. And so was the Canaanite woman who approached Jesus that day. She was beset with worry for her sick daughter, perhaps this Jewish holy man could help. Jesus ignores her. The disciples want to send her away.
Finally Jesus uses the “D” word. “Woman, it is not right to take the food of the children (the Jews) and throw it to the dogs.”
What does she do? Slap him? Return her own slur to him? (“You dirty so-and-so”). Stomp out of the room?
No. You see, she’s not thinking about herself. She’s thinking about her poor daughter. “It doesn’t matter what he calls me. This man can help my daughter. I believe in him.” “Jesus, you let the dogs eat what falls from the table, please, this dog is begging you, heal my daughter!”
Well . . . !! Jesus is overwhelmed with this response. “Woman, great is your faith!!” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. (Mt. 15:21-28.8)
Two remarkable things happen here it seems.
1. Jesus learns something. His message, the gospel, in the end is for all people not just the Jews. All one needs is faith.
2. Sometimes those least expected to receive and understand the message are the FIRST to get it. (the Good Samaritan LK. 10, Roman Centurion MT. 8)
What can we learn from these two? First off we know that the Heart of Jesus is moved by an act of faith. Christ cannot remain indifferent to one who believes in him. In fact he tells us that if our act of faith is so small (as a mustard seed) he can still work out God’s plan in our lives. What good news this is for those who feel their faith is weak . . . it’s a start. God will use it.
Secondly. What so touched Jesus’ heart in that moment? I think it was the humility of the mother, her love for her daughter, and the courage to stand in the midst of 12 disapproving men to make her need known to Jesus. All this won the heart of Christ.
So what about you and me? Can we let ourselves be small before the Lord? Can we persevere in the face of ridicule? Can we so focus on something other than ourselves like Peter last week walking over the waters toward Jesus?
Let’s ask God for the grace to be like that “dog”.