The underdog – Wednesday, 18th week in ordinary time – Mt 15: 21-28
Hammering this Gospel passage home is not going to be that easy; you got to suss this one out. Jesus seems to have lost His empathy and perhaps this is the only narrative where, at first, He denies help to someone in need. So was Jesus just having a bad hair day after His run-in with the Pharisees in verse 1- 9?
You got to let the muddied waters of hatred between the Jews and Gentiles settle on this one a bit, to see why Jesus initially said what He did. Matthew calls the woman a Canaanite and this already indicates a deep seated historical animosity which Mark does not use; he calls her a Syro-Phonecian (Mark 7:24-30) a far more acceptable term of address.
Jesus, for some unexplained reason withdraws from Galilee and walks into the sea coast region, North West of Palestine, into Tyre and Sidon. The people of this land, which Israel conquered under Joshua, were considered pagans by the Jews. Many of the Canaanites had been pushed northward into Phoenicia when the Hebrews invaded the territory. The hatred was mutual and understandable.
When Matthew wrote the Gospel, he was writing to a Jewish audience who had a deep respect for the law, the tradition. They would certainly be intrigued if not offended by the actions of Jesus who willingly strayed and led His disciples into pagan land. While Matthew’s Gospel is not entirely hostile to the Gentiles, it most certainly keeps the door ajar for them to come on board.
Jesus thus ignores the woman’s cry for mercy; a cry not for herself but for her daughter who is tormented by a devil. It is plausible to assume that the fame of Jesus which had spread far and wide, reached the districts of this Phoenician neighbourhood. The woman, albeit a foreigner, identifies Him physically but also hails Him in messianic terms; she calls Him the Son of David.
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