Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Jeremiah 31:1-7; Matthew 15:21-28)
We live in a time of cultural sensitivity. Many take common characterizations of different peoples as deprecations and affronts. For example, the National Football League’s Washington team was persuaded to abandon its name “Redskins” because it was offensive to various tribes. Such heightened sensitivity helps us avoid slander and stereotypes. Nevertheless, we should not vilify past generations for not observing contemporary etiquette. If we do, we will find ourselves accusing Jesus of a racial slur in today’s gospel.
Jesus is making a retreat in the borderlands of Tyre and Sidon. There a Canaanite woman – a non-Jew – approaches him as a man renowned for his mighty deeds. She asks him to cast out the demon tormenting her daughter. Jesus, wanting to keep to his agenda of rebuilding Israel, tries to dismiss her. He excuses himself by referring to non-Jews as “dogs” – something not unusual in his culture. Importantly, he does not close the door on the woman. Rather, he allows himself to be moved by her act of faith.
We should hear this story as an indulgence that is available to us. Often we act like dogs. We protect our turf with ferocity. We fight over frivolous things like dogs going after a bone. Yet God is ready to forgive us when we recognize our aggression and ask His mercy. Thinking of ourselves as dogs or perhaps rats or thieves at times may help us recognize our sinfulness. They are analogies that deliver a truth, but are not meant to define us.