Today’s Gospel account contains one of the most memorable verbal duels recorded in the four Gospels, and one of the most important. We need to draw some golden nuggets out of this wonderful passage.
First of all, it is important to note that Jesus is speaking here to a woman, something rabbis back in those days did not do in public. Not only that, but she was a foreigner, a Canaanite woman from the area that these days we call Lebanon.
The Jews and the Canaanites did not get along well at all. Like the Magi, those wise men from the East that we find at Christ’s birth, this non-Jew presents herself to Jesus and addresses Him as “Son of David” as she begs His help for her daughter who is possessed by some mysterious inner demonic force.
In this account, there are three movements. The first involves Canaanite woman’s journey of faith. Leaving her own religion behind she turns to a Jewish rabbi, Jesus, and places her faith in Him. She looks to Him for a miraculous cure for her daughter. For her trouble, she received silence from Jesus. She was rebuffed, humiliated, and given a cold shoulder from Him. Jesus’ disciples, annoyed by the fact that she was bothering Him with her loud crying, seek to get rid of her. They want Jesus to send her away. So Jesus says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Then comes the second movement. The woman presses in on Jesus, and falling on her knees in front of Him she cries out, “Lord, help me.” For her second effort Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” How utterly humiliating. In effect, He was calling her a dog! Her humility was turned into what appeared to be a terrible humiliation. People in the Middle East are very sensitive about such things. We are very aware of that in our dealings with them in our time.
Then comes the final movement. In abject humility with her face in the dirt, stripped of her dignity, having abandoned her own religious background, she has nothing left, not even her pride. “Please, Lord,” she softly insists, “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” What the Canaanite woman is saying is that she doesn’t deserve anything. “But,” she asks, “how about giving me scraps that accidentally fall from your abundance?” With that, the heart of Jesus is vanquished.