Sunday, December 9, 2012



Both Matthew 15, 21-28 and Mark 7, 24-30 recount a troubling tale of Jesus’ treatment of a Gentile woman.

According to Mark, a woman who “was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth” (Mark 7, 26. In Matthew’s account, she is a “Canaanite woman” (Matthew 15, 22). The term “Greek” was often used at the time in the Holy Land to denote any Gentile. Hence, if I or you had been alive at the time, we would have been “Greek” even if our names were Quinn, Kruszewski, Patrello, of Fernholz, but I digress.) begged Jesus to expel the unclean spirit that had possessed her daughter. Jesus, knowing that the woman was not a Jew, replies in a way most of us find stunning:

Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark, 7, 27)

Jesus is calling Gentiles dogs!

The story has a happy ending. The woman, who must have been quite a pistol, replies

Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” (Mark 7, 28)

and Jesus replies

For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark 7, 29)

and Mark further reports

When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mark 7, 30)

But despite the happy ending, we come away asking how Jesus could be so callous to this woman who was begging His help.

I’ve heard several explanations, but they are all lame. One… “culture”…is especially unsatisfying. After years of prayer and thought on this, I have come up with a better explanation.

In this passage, Jesus is acting so clearly cold, cruel, and contrary to Himself in order to show us how cold, cruel, and contrary to Him we are, and how ridiculous we sound, when we exclude people from access to Him, actually or in our minds, because they are different from us. How do you think some of us Catholics sound when we speak of “the one true Church” and hint, if not proclaim (contrary, by the way, to the doctrine of our Church, at least for now), that salvation can only come through the Catholic Church? How do you think some Protestants sound when they say that we “papist” and “idol worshipping” Catholics can’t achieve salvation? How do all of us Christians sound when we argue, in line with or contrary to the doctrines of our branch of Christianity that non-Christians cannot enter into eternal happiness with God? (See my 11/14/12 post YOU MEAN NON-CHRISTIANS DON’T GET TO COME TO HEAVEN?) That’s right; we sound like Jesus sounded when he told the Gentile woman who begged for His mercy (There was no need to beg, by the way; Jesus doesn’t want us begging for anything from Him; see my 12/4/12 post, “HEY, GOD…DO YOU SUPPOSE WE CAN WORK OUT A DEAL?”)…cold, cruel, and contrary to His very nature, a nature He so much wants us to share.

So do you think Jesus sounds uncaring, mean, and cruel in Mark 7, 24-30 and Matthew 15, 21-28? I do. And He knows He sounds uncaring, mean, and cruel. But He does so because He wants us to realize how we sound, and how much we hurt Him, when we presume to say something like

You can’t have (eternal life, friendship with God, admittance to our church, partnership in our community) because you’re not (Catholic, Protestant, Christian, Jew, Muslim).

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