[A] Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon” (Mt 15:22).
In Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus revealed through three responses, some of the darker sides of our fallen, human nature. In his fourth response, he also identified the way to resist these three sinful tendencies.
When the Canaanite woman called out to the Son of David to have pity on her, Jesus first responded with silence. His silence can represent the indifference we feel toward those not like us. We ignore their very presence as if they don’t exist. In the early nineties, while I was in the novitiate with the Franciscans of Holy Name Province, we toured an impoverished inner-city area in Philadelphia. One of the local friars pointed up to the elevated tracks as the commuter train headed past us toward the heart of the city. He shared how the majority of those commuting into the city had no idea of the need, pain, and struggles of those down here below, like the homeless mother and her three young children that I had met that day. Are we aware of those in need around us, or do we ride our own Elevated Train of Indifference?
The disciples approached Jesus and asked that he send the woman away. Jesus replied: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Jesus’ response can represent the dangers of tribalism and nationalism, and how it can taint our perception regarding how we perceive those that are outside of our group. Those we consider as not one of us. The danger is that this perspective can grow such that we see them as less than human. A Lakota elder, Fire Hawk, who became family to me in my early twenties shared how in his youth, he thought about being a priest. He voiced his interest and was told that it was not possible because he was Indian, and after receiving one too many baths in which he was scrubbed down in bleach and water, to wash the red out, he gave up on the idea. Do we dismiss those in need around us, do we not help, or worse crush their dreams because someone has a different national, religious, political, racial, ethnic, or gender identity?
The woman increased her boldness and walked directly up to Jesus and did him homage and asked him directly for help. Jesus’ third response: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt 15:26). In this derogatory statement, Jesus’ third response can reveal the power of our words and symbols that we use to belittle, demean, and dehumanize. When we place labels on others and begin to believe them, we begin to see others as less than human. Not only do we refuse our help but we also make them into an enemy that must be put in their place. This path can lead to the horrific scenes witnessed in Charlottesville a few years back. Before we slip into the defensive posture that it can’t happen here. Let us remember that on April 18, 2015, in our community of Jupiter, three white teens were out “Guat-hunting”, their phrase, looking for Guatemalans to rob. That night they found a Guatemalan young man, 18-year-old Onesimo Marcelino Lopez-Ramos, a son and brother. After their encounter, Onesimo was bludgeoned to death with a rock. Are we aware that our attitudes, our words, and our actions matter?
The Canaanite woman retorted, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus’ responded: “O Woman, great is your faith” (Mt 15:28)! This final statement can reveal to us that there is an antidote to indifference, tribalism, and dehumanization and that is the love expressed by the Canaanite woman for her daughter. She crossed social boundaries, side-stepped indifference, refused to be sent away, risked ridicule, and possible abuse and death because she would not be denied until her daughter was healed. She did not get defensive, did not fight back, because she did not think of herself. She thought only of the welfare of her daughter.
What is Jesus saying to us? We are to see each other as interconnected human beings. What befalls one of us befalls us all. We are sacred beings created in his image and likeness by the same God and Father of us all. Jesus demands that we meet darkness with light, hate with love, and that in everyone we encounter, we engage them with that same love and mercy he bestows upon us. We are to will the good of the other as other, no matter who they are. We are to choose faith, hope, and the greatest of these, love, as the light that guides how we encounter one another, especially those who are hurting in our midst.
It is not enought to believe in and receive Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist. If we truly believe we receive him then we need to allow him into the darkest, most wounded areas of our souls where our biases and prejudices dwell. We also must have eyes that are willing to see him present in others. May our thoughts, words, and actions be transformed and utilized to encourage, empower, affirm, and love. May each of our places of worship, gathering, and all our homes, in the words of Isaiah, “be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”