At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, 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.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
For Matthew, Jesus is the long awaited Messiah for the Jewish people. Finally He has arrived. Finally the prayers of Matthew’s ancestors have been answered. The anointed one is here. Finally the chosen people are looking less forgotten and more chosen. It’s no wonder that when writing the gospel Matthew’s community wants readers to remember that Jesus’ primary mission is to the lost house of Israel. The love of the Jewish people is evident. The primary mission, being saved through Jesus. Still, no matter how you sugar coat it, his comments comparing the Canaanite women to a dog seem a bit over the top.
Nowhere else in the gospel does Jesus seem so uncaring. This is a tricky gospel in which we could easily conclude that Matthew wants the people who read it to believe Jesus thought the gentiles were second class citizens. But if we look closely at the story, the bottom line is that despite Matthew’s preferential feelings about his Jewish people, the gentile woman at the end of the story is given what she asks for and praised for her faith. Now I have to give caution because my reflection hardly touches on some of the deeper scriptural and theological concepts of Matthew’s writings. Regardless, the disciples, especially if they believed they were special because of their lineage, learn an important lesson today. Ultimately the healing power of Jesus reaches beyond religious bias, ancestry, or place of privilege. It might be a good thing for all of us to remember that. It is dangerous to believe we have a place at the table of the Lord because we are Christian or Catholic or even just plain believers. Worthiness to receive even the scraps from the table is reserved for the Lord and the Lord alone.
EVERYONE has a place around the table of the Lord. There are no reservations, no special seating and never ever two different menus. Actually, the irony is that the seat of honor at the table is the one we Christians are called to give up so that the stranger, the marginalized, the outsider has a place to sit. The meat, the gravy and the potatoes get passed around the table to everyone. Please, no feeding the dog while we’re eating. Remember that the Canaanites and the like stay seated long enough to get a piece of chocolate cake for desert.