Grace to you!
I reflect on the steadfast faith of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:21-28) and use it as an inspiration to us.
One of the newest American idioms I learned is "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." A friend used it, in passing, while talking about how patients who disturb healthcare providers most, get the most considerable attention. How true! I love the expression though.
Idiomatic expressions or proverbs are one of the Achilles heels of learning new languages, and a nightmare for translators. Only a person who understands the cultural "inside scoop" (an American slang) of a people can understand their idioms' logic. By the way, many idioms have no standard logic. They do not follow the usual lexical or grammatical rules. They are simply what they are, and you have to be familiar with the language to understand them.
Many of my daily blogs are garnished with African metaphors, idioms, and proverbs. As a Nigerian and African, they come in handy. You may have noticed. A few times, I do so intentionally, many times reflexively.
Like Asian and Middle Eastern ancient cultures, many African proverbs play with nature images—animals, trees, weather, etc. A lack of knowledge of this "inside scoop" would lead to misunderstandings and sometimes, misjudgment.
Take, for example, the following Igbo proverb: "[Let] kite perch, [let] eagle perch also." The English equivalent meaning of the saying is, "Live and let live." Neither the kite nor the eagle is human, yet this Igbo African proverb uses animals to represent humans.
Why this primer on the language use of idioms? It is because this reflection will focus on one of the most misunderstood aspects of the entire teaching of Jesus, the famous story of "the Canaanite Woman."
Her daughter was sick and dying, and she pleads with Jesus the Lord to heal her. First, Jesus seems to ignore her. The disciples of Jesus didn't seem to 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 Matthew 15:21-28.
Let's get to the heart of the matter. This Canaanite woman cried unto Jesus, to heal her daughter, who was severely sick. She called Jesus "Son of David," acknowledging him as the Messiah—a rare faith profession.
The English translation of Jesus' 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 overshadows the seemingly shocking statement, proving it wasn't as it reads in English. "Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table" (Mt 15:26-27).
Many get upset at Jesus' response to this woman. Some others, including some theologians, accuse Jesus of being a bigot, a misogynist, or a hater.
For me, they miss the point. Not only are such reactions rash and misleading, but they also miss the whole point of using idioms and metaphors in language. They ignore the context of the message, and therefore, miss its point.
Checking some Greek biblical lexicons, I observed that the word used by Jesus was a common noun for little dogs or pets. It was κυνάρια (kunaria), 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/interpreted in its own right. Just like a fair reader must read any culture's idioms in its own right for a more accurate meaning.
Of more interest to me today is the persistence, humility, perseverance, and unmatched faith of this woman. Not even in Israel, the Lord Jesus said, could it be found. Indeed, many believers today do not have the level of faith of the Canaanite woman. For those who have it and want it, it is an incredible asset.
The Canaanite woman's faith matured in perseverance. Faith thrives when we know God's inside scoop—Revelation. It grows when we pay attention to God's signals whispered to us as idioms, parables, metaphors, and unfamiliar events. Those familiar with God's ways and inside scoop can understand. In the Thomistic language, there are many analogies in divine communication with us. I proposed that whispers and metaphors of divine grace are everywhere around us.
Observe the Church’s liturgy, for instance, and 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 uncommon faith.
The Canaanite woman is, for us, a true hero of resolute faith. It would be awesome to pray for such faith—the faith that connects with God's logic, the kind that knows the story behind the story.
I wish you that faith. I pray that you mature in it. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday, Week 18 Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 31:1-7; Matthew 15:21-28]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.