Jesus belongs to everyone
A pagan woman takes the initiative of approaching Jesus even though she does not belong to the Jewish people. She is an anguished mother who has spent her life suffering with a daughter who is “tormented by a demon.” She goes to meet Jesus, shouting: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” Jesus’ first reaction is unexpected. He does not even stop to listen to her. It is not time yet to bring the Good News of God to the pagans. But since the woman keeps insisting, Jesus explains why he behaves so: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The woman does not back down. She will overcome every difficulty and resistance. In a bold gesture she does Jesus homage, stopping him in his tracks, and on her knees, with a humble but firm heart, addresses him just one cry: “Lord, help me.”
Jesus’ response is not like him. Although in those days it was entirely taken for granted that Jews would call pagans “dogs,” his words sound offensive to our ears: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Picking up intelligently on the metaphor, the woman dares to correct Jesus from her inclined posture on the ground: “True, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Her faith is admirable. Surely at the Father’s table everyone can be fed: the children of Israel and the pagan dogs as well. Jesus seems to be thinking only of the “lost sheep” of Israel, but she too is a “lost sheep.” The God-Sent cannot just belong to the Jews. He should belong to everyone and be for everyone.
In the face of the woman’s faith, Jesus gives in. Her reply reveals both her humility and her greatness: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” This woman is laying bare before him that God’s mercy does not exclude anyone. The Good Father is above the ethnic and religious barriers that we humans set up.
Jesus recognizes the woman as a believer though she lives within a pagan religion. He even finds in her a “great faith,” not the little faith of his disciples whom he has chided more than once as “people of little faith.” Any human being can confidently go to Jesus. He knows how to recognize someone’s faith even though such person lives outside the Church. People will always find in him a Friend and a Teacher of life.
We Christians should be glad that Jesus keeps attracting so many people today who live outside the Church. Jesus is bigger than all our institutions. He keeps doing much good, even to those who have left our Christian communities.
José Antonio Pagola
August 17, 2014
20 Ordinary Time (A)
Matthew 15, 21-28