Grace to you!
Today's reflection focuses on one of the most misunderstood interactions of the Lord Jesus. It is the story of the woman whom the Gospel of Mark, written for a Greek audience, called the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30). The Gospel of Matthew, targeted for the Jewish audience, calls the woman "the Canaanite Woman" (Mt 15:21-28).
The woman's daughter was sick and dying. She pleads with the Lord Jesus to heal her daughter. First, Jesus seems to ignore her. The disciples of Jesus don't want anything to do with her, either. Worse, it seems, Jesus used an idiom that appears to compare her with dogs. Read the full story in Mark 7:24-30 or Matthew 15:21-28.
The woman calls Jesus "Son of David," acknowledging him as the Messiah. This was a rare profession of faith from a so-called gentile.
The English translation of the Lord's response is shocking at face value. "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to dogs." The woman's reply ignores the seemingly shocking statement. It's a hint that the Lord's the statement may not read as it reads in English: "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps" (Mt15:26-27).
Many criticize the Lord's response. Some accuse him of being a bigot, a misogynist, or a hater. Anyone who has read the life of Christ would agree these labels aren’t complete opposite of his character.
For me, they miss the point. Not only are such reactions rash and misleading, but they also miss the whole point of the use of idioms and metaphors in language. Over simplistic and literal interpretation of words is a recipe for confusion. It does much harm to healthy dialogue.
Checking some Greek Biblical lexicons, I observed that the word used by Jesus was a common noun for little dogs or pets—κυνάρια (kunaria). It is distinguished from κύνες (Kunes) as usually used for dogs or street dogs.
Similarly, it was an idiomatic expression. The Lord did not use it in a derogatory way. The woman, coming from a similar cultural milieu, understood the meaning; and hence, responded in kind. Biblical language should be understood and interpreted in its own right and context.
Nevertheless, of more interest to me here is the persistence, humility, and perseverance of this woman. More importantly, it is her unmatched faith. As the Gospel of Matthew noted that the Lord attested to this when he said of the woman's faith: "not even in Israel could it be found." Indeed, many believers today do not have the level of faith of the Syrophoenician woman.
For those who have it and want it, faith matures. Hers matured in perseverance. Faith thrives when we know God's "inside scoop" story—the story of Revelation. It grows when we pay attention to God's signals whispered to us as in forms of idioms, parables, metaphors, and unfamiliar events. Those familiar with God's ways and inside scoop language, understand.
Observe the Church's liturgy, for instance. You see how the mysteries of faith unveil before your very eyes. Powerful. Gripping. It is an excellent example of the inside scoop of heavenly language, nurturing the faith that isn't common.
The Syrophoenician woman is, for us, a true heroine of resolute faith. It wouldn't be a bad idea to pray for such faith. It is the kind that connects with God's logic. It's the faith that knows the story behind the story. It's the faith that moves mountains.
I pray our faith matures like that. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 5 B: 1 Kgs 11:4-13; Mk 7:24-30]
Photo source: Cathopic.com
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.