The woman who changed the mind of Jesus
TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Jesus started his mission in the District in which he grew up, Galilee. He was teaching the people that God is merciful, and performed miracles that were the concrete sign of that mercy of God, who is close to all who suffer or are excluded. Then he withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon, crossing the border of his nation, Israel. It has always happened in the history of this our planet that some citizens of a particular Country settle in a neighbouring country, because of business or marriage, or else. Jesus enters Lebanon and wants to preach to his fellow Israelites that dwell in that nation. This was his agenda, that day.
But something unexpected happens. A Canaanite (hence, a foreigner, a pagan) woman heard the news that the famous rabbi from Nazareth has entered her Country. Good news and bad news travel fast, and can cross borders without the need to have an Entry Visa.
This week, everybody in the whole world, knew immediately about the terrible landslide that killed hundreds of people in Freetown, the Capital of Sierra Leone.
The Canaanite woman has a great problem: her daughter is tormented by a persistent sickness. She shouts to Jesus to heal her child. But Jesus “said not a word in answer to her” (Mt 15:23). Why? I am asking you the same question: what is the reason for his closeness? The reason is that the “accent” of the woman betrays her location: she is foreigner. The same dramatic incident happened to Simon Peter the night he denied Jesus: some bystanders said to him: “You are a disciple of Jesus, your accent gives you away” (Mt 26:73). Jesus does not help the woman, because he was sent to the sheep of Israel (v. 24). I believe that Christ, at the beginning of his ministry, was a son of his culture and religious beliefs. As the Old Testament says, Israel is the chosen nation, the people of God. They are the lawful children of Abraham (and Sarah). This is the religion and culture that was preached every Sabbath day in the Synagogue of Nazareth and in the Temple of f Jerusalem. This is the doctrine. Therefore, Jesus thought that his miracles were meant only for his citizens. Also the woman is aware of that. But she finds the strength to shout. It is the deep sorrow in her heart, the heart of all our mothers, that drives her to make the attempt to win Jesus’ attention. She knew that she did not stand a chance, but love goes beyond reason, at times!
She says two beautiful prayers to the Master:
‘Take pity on me’
‘Lord, help me’.
We all recite her first prayer every Mass: “Lord, have mercy!”. We are grateful to that pagan woman for lending us her words.
A broader vision
Jesus knows that all the pagans were addressed by the Jews with the derogative expression: “dogs”. He tells the woman: ‘The food on the table is for the members of the family, not for the house-dogs’. These words would kill any hope in our minds. But the wounded heart of a suffering mother finds the solution: ‘even dogs are entitled to the scraps’.
Jesus had just multiplied the bread (Mt 14). His miracle was so abundant, that when the crowd had finished eating (“dem ol beleful”, as we say in Krio language, here), there were still 12 baskets of scraps. The Canaanite was begging for her daughter, but Jesus understood that the situation was inviting him to go beyond his culture: his salvation had to be universal. Without borders. There is sufficient bread for everybody. The woman changed the vision of Jesus. That woman converted Christ. God can use any person to inspire us, even the unexpected, and the one who does not “belong” to our group. Jesus started as the Messiah of Israel, but he woman disclosed to him his grater mission: Saviour of the whole world.
We owe our religion also to her: a woman, a pagan, a non citizen, a foreigner!
Let us pray:
“Woman of Canaan, the Gospel does not even tell us your name; but we invoke you: intercede for us, you who touched the heart of Jesus; pray for all the children who perished in the landslide in Freetown, this week. Their mothers cloud not even pray to God for the lives of their children, that morning: they had no time. The tragedy hit all of them. Intercede for us, you, loving mother”.