This event in which Jesus ultimately answers this lady’s prayer, sounds in the first instance unusually harsh. Here’s this poor lady who comes to Jesus because she’s got a possessed daughter. And like a good mother she wants to have her daughter healed. She goes to the one place where there’s a chance of this happening. And she won’t take no for an answer. She keeps crying out and crying out and engages Jesus in debate. Jesus says, “It’s not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Now dogs there, is actually a little stronger than the translation needs to be. It’s more like – ‘to the house puppies’. Not like just some ‘mangy cur out in the street’ – it’s like the little dogs though - puppies you might have in the house, which are what are referred to … that the puppies still eat the scraps that fall from the table.
Is Jesus’ mind changed by what this lady says? No, because Jesus has known from the beginning of time exactly what He was going to do, and that He was going to heal this daughter. But there’s a demonstration here of a couple things that Jesus wants to make a point of, not only to her but also to the disciples. First, she does everything right. She comes with humility. She calls out for mercy. She calls Him Lord, and she does Him homage. She shows that she has in her heart what it takes to be a believer. She recognizes who Jesus is. Jesus commands her, “Great is your faith; let it be done for you as you wish.” And she goes home and finds her daughter has been restored. Her daughter whom she loves has been freed from this torment.
It was difficult for the Jewish
people in the beginning to believe that the Messiah of the Jews would share His
power with the non-Jew. It was one of
those messages that caused great controversy in the early Church, even after
the Jews had become Christians; to say to each other, well, is it possible for
Gentiles to be saved? And there was
great controversy about: should they be baptized, should they be considered
real followers of Jesus or not? This of
course only continued as long as the Church was primarily in
That attitude continues to be with us. There’s a certain amount of justification that the Jews had, in the sense that they knew they were chosen. They knew they were uniquely chosen. They knew they had a relationship with God, unlike any other society; any other race had ever had anywhere. They were uniquely chosen by God to be His people. And they were given the one piece of real estate in all the world, that has ever been claimed exclusively by God for His own. It would be natural, given our human predilections, to fall into a certain amount of self-righteousness, when you knew that you were the chosen and everybody else was not. And when Jesus began to open the door, in fact when Jesus, especially when He’s preaching, gives examples of how God had reached out to other people, to other races, it infuriated them.
The disciples were with Jesus, they saw what He did, they heard what He said, but the great test of whether or not gentiles, which are us, could be open to the power of the Kingdom of God, doesn’t happen until the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, when it’s demonstrated that the Fire of the Spirit can rest on them as well. And one of Peter’s great pronouncements as leader of the early Church was to say, “If God has given them the Holy Spirit, the same way He has given the Holy Spirit to us, how can we possibly deny them Baptism?”
If He is willing to pour out His Spirit on anyone at any time, who is willing, then our attitude needs to be exactly the same. Our attitude needs to be: He wants to give it to everybody, anywhere, and if given the slightest inclination in the heart, Jesus will move. Which is a good thing, because otherwise we’d still be on the outside wondering what it was like to know Jesus. His desire is to lead all men and women to Himself; to say, there is no category of human being that He is not calling to surrender. And it is good for us to remember that.
We live in a society that is much more, in some ways egalitarian by nature, and so we have less experience of simply saying to a whole class of people, “ You’re not worthy of evangelism.” But this is relatively new in our history as humanity. To understand how much Jesus wants everyone to hear the message; how much Jesus wants to pour out and lavish His Holy Spirit on all people, this has been one of the constant themes that the Holy Father has preached since he became Pope. He constantly tells us, “Be not afraid,” and couples it with an admonition to let people know; never be ashamed of explaining to them the reason for your hope – Who it is you believe in, Who it is you trust, Who it is who holds you in the palm of His hand. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed about proclaiming the gift that you’ve been given.
The Holy Father has done that himself, personally; is now personally responsible for evangelizing more people that anyone else in the history of the planet. And he constantly says to us – it’s your job, too. Tell people – tell people the wondrous gift of the good news: “Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen from the dead.” Surrender! Let him rule, let Him be the center, let Him be the King.
Jesus delighted in effect to touch this woman and to touch her daughter. Jesus delights every time a human heart says: “Yes, I want you, I want more.” Let us plead with Him that we would be willing vessels of that message. The only gift that we can truly give to Jesus is to let Him use us to build the Kingdom. And let us look into our hearts and see, is there anybody in our life whom we have not shared the Gospel with, because we have somehow committed the self-righteous act of thinking, “Well, they’re just not worthy, or they just don’t deserve it.”
To look into our hearts and plead with Jesus to show us – is any of that in us? – because if it is, it needs to go. Are we worthy of receiving the Good News? Do we somehow deserve what Jesus does for us? The one prayer that we should absolutely never pray is, “Lord give me exactly what I deserve.” Because what we all deserve is Hell, except for those among us who have never sinned – and she’s not here today. He shows mercy, and He loves to show mercy. And our attitude must be exactly the same as His, because we call on His Name, because we claim to be His followers. When we claim the name of Christian, we commit ourselves to being as Jesus is, with love and mercy and an uncompromising attention to the Truth, a Truth that sometimes is hard to say, but a Truth that should burn in our hearts and hopefully fill us with enough love to be able to risk.
When the Holy Father constantly tells us to have courage, it’s because he knows that generally by nature, we’re afraid. Human beings are very rejection conscious. What if I tell this person Jesus loves them, and they spit in my face? Or they laugh, or they say what are you, some kind of fanatic? What if they do? What are we willing to put up with to give people the greatest gift we could possibly offer to them… a saving relationship with the person of Jesus, surrendered to Him in the power of His Spirit, in the heart of His Church.
Perhaps the Holy Father, thinking of, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and constantly telling us to not be afraid, is maybe subtly reminding us; maybe we just don’t love enough. Maybe we just don’t love the people in our lives enough. Maybe we’re more concerned about what they think of us than what they think of Jesus. And if we loved them more we’d care a whole lot less about what they think of us and a whole lot more about: do they know Him, are they walking with Him, are they letting His Love, His Joy and His Peace touch their hearts? Let us plead with Jesus today that He would take our hearts, our hearts of stone, and give us hearts of flesh, hearts filled with love.
The Holy Father, given the tiniest possible excuse, will immediately share the good news in great length. He invites us to do the same. We will not do it from his position of authority, we probably won’t do it with his wisdom, but it doesn’t take a whole lot to simply say to somebody: “Jesus loves you;” “Jesus died for you;” “Jesus wants you.”
As our society continues to disintegrate, and Christianity in some ways seems to be eclipsed, now is not the time for the followers of Jesus to take their cue from that; but rather to take our cue from Jesus Himself, Who loves to save.