More than Scraps (Mt 15:21-28)
19th August 2017
We might find Jesus response to the Canaanite women in today’s Gospel surprising; ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs’ (Matt 15:26). What does he mean by this? Who are ‘the children’? Let us take some time to understand the history and context of this event.
Jesus was a Jew; he was of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The people of Israel are descendants of Abraham. Last week St Paul told us, in his letter to the Romans, that the Israelites are the people for whom God drew up the rituals and laws (Rm 9:4). He made a covenant with them, adopting them ‘as sons’ (Rm 9:4). Why did he do this? Throughout the Old Testament, God frequently reminded his people that he chose them, not because of any merits of their own – but out of love (e.g. Duet 7.7). As well as knowing God’s love towards themselves, by keeping his laws and commandments, the people of Israel would be the living witnesses of a good, just, wise and loving God. Other nations would see them and say, ‘No other nation is as wise and prudent as this great nation!’ (Duet 4:6). Other nations would be attracted by the life of the people of Israel. Drawn by their example, foreigners too would come to serve the Lord. As our first reading from Isaiah tells us, they too would be made ‘joyful’ in the Lord’s house of prayer (Is 56:7).
Jesus is the Messiah who was promised to the Jews. He is the fulfilment of all their hopes and longings. Jesus was not only for the Jews. Yet, faithful to his promises towards his people, he came first to ‘the lost sheep of the House of Israel’ (Matt 15:24) to gather them once again to himself. Not all of them understood him or accepted him, ‘but to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God’ (Jn 1:12). Now it is our turn, as those who acclaim Jesus as Lord, to be his witnesses and to draw others him, who is God in flesh, ‘God with us’ (Cf Matt 1:23). As St Paul tells us in today’s second reading, he wants to make his own people ‘envious’ of us Christians so that they see the gift we have been given in Christ and so turn to him and be saved (Rm 11:14).
So what of the Canaanite women? She, a foreigner, was one of those attracted by the goodness, wisdom and love she saw in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. We know from our own experience that sometimes the Lord may seem to be silent when we speak to him or seem to delay in answering our prayers. But he is listening. In his silence, he allows our desire for him to grow, just as he did with the Canaanite women. Full of faith in his goodness and power she says to him, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their Master’s table’ (Matt 15:27). And Jesus gives her more than scraps, for he is always generous with his grace; because of her faith, he fulfils her heart’s desire. He knew well that he was ‘for her’ too. Perhaps at that moment he thought of his Father speaking to him through the prophet Isaiah:
‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I shall make you a light to the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (Is 49:6).
Through her encounter with Jesus, the Canaanite women came to know the true Messiah who is Truth Himself. As the People of God, we are called to live in such a way that people will see goodness, truth and love in us – that they be attracted to our loving God – ‘and Jesus Christ whom he has sent’ (Cf Jn 17:3) by the love they see is us. All are called to the knowledge and love of Our Lord Jesus Christ – not ‘scraps’ but the abundant Heavenly Banquet of the Kingdom of God.