God will surprise us every time. He will always set the record straight. Every time we think we know him or his plan of salvation he shows us we are thinking too narrow or too small. Every time we want to limit him by our own limitations. When we want to own him, define him, or box him up.Every time we forget the expansiveness of his kingdom and the universality of the Children of God.
Isaiah describes this universality in the first reading. God’s kingdom (he says) is not closed off to all but a few. It is open and inviting to all who love justice and strive do what is right. The Kingdom is not a fortress keeping people out but a Holy Mountain where humble offerings and true sacrifices, of all people, even the unacceptable, will be accepted.
In today’s Gospel Jesus travels towards Tyre and Sidon. These are not Jewish cities. They are Phoenician Canaanite cities on the coast of the Mediterranean, up north near Lebanon, and certainly beyond the borders of Israel. It is important to know that if the Samaritans were looked down upon and despised by the Jews, at least they worshiped (in their own way) the God of Abraham. But, the Canaanites were the ancient, bitter enemy, from the earliest days of Joshua crossing into the land of Cana. The Canaanites fought back and had nothing to do with the God of Israel. They worshiped Baal.
We do not know the reason Jesus travels towards Phoenician territory.But, we do know that a Canaanite woman (of that territory) comes out to meet Jesus. We know she is a desperate mother who must have tried everything to help her daughter, who we are told, was tormented by demons.Having run out of reasonable options the mother now turned to the unreasonable, an itinerant
Jewish rabbi. As a Canaanite what could she possibly know of Jesus? Had the stories of Jesus’
wondrous healing travelled that far? Did she know he was coming? Whatever the reason, this
mother hoped that Jesus could help her daughter.
The question that must of haunted her though was - would he?
When she meets Jesus on the open road she addresses him as “Lord, Son of David”.
Jewish messiah, the true but hidden king of Israel who, in the words of the prophet - Who would
bind up the injured and heal the sick. This is what she hoped Jesus to do for her daughter.
But, despite her distress and sincerity Jesus is silent and his disciples ask Him to send this Gentile woman away for she is bothering them.
This prompts Jesus to try ease the situation and clarify his position.
Think of it, Jesus, at that time, has a limited vision of his father’s sovereignty and even his own mission. Because, Jesus was still growing into perfect understanding of his father and his own son-ship.
The desperate mother, (and what mother would not be desperate to save her child from torment) does not take no for an answer and she falls to the ground and does Jesus homage crying out, as if a prayer, “Lord, help me”. Jesus, unsettled by her boldness, again ties to explain.
“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs”
Now, the persistent mother teaches the teacher saying, Please Lord, even dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table. This catches Jesus by surprise. It was one of those ah-ha moments when in an instant vision changes and the horizon expands.
When Jesus least expects it; because he is not in solitary prayer or teaching in the synagogue, but rather on a dusty road, face to face with a rather persistent gentile woman, he realizes that everything everywhere, is possible for God.
In this moment of encounter with the other, Jesus grasps the radical scope of his father’s sovereignty and his own expanded mission of proclaiming the Good News. Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation is not just for the lost sheep of Israel, but for all the lost sheep of every nation. Every person matters to God.
Yes, the children are fed first, but it does not mean that the dogs do not eat at all. God, nor the Word of God, is not the exclusive property of a few, but the loving sovereign of all of creation. And His kingdom is not walled off, but wide open. His banquet table can sit the world.
In the end Jesus is moved by her faith.
And it was done. Healing love was prompted by unthinkable and persistent faith.This unacceptable, pagan woman, showed Jesus, and us, how radical God and his saving plan is.
It is grander that we can every imagine.
So we must resist limiting God by our own limitations.We must resist thinking that our image of God is God.
And must remember (even when we least want to) just how expansive and inclusive God’s kingdom is, how universal is his forgiveness, mercy and love.There are no boundaries nor borders either for persistent faith or healing love.