Homily for August 3rd, 2016:
Today’s gospel poses a question which we cannot answer. Why did Jesus initially refuse the request of a Gentile woman that he heal her daughter? It cannot be because Jesus lacked compassion. The gospels show that he was a man of total compassion. Did Jesus want to test the depth of this mother’s love for her sick child? If so, she passed the test with flying colors. Throwing herself at Jesus’ feet, she shows that she is out to win. Her daughter means everything to her. She refuses to take no for an answer.
Jesus’ words about the children being fed first seem to be a reference to his mission of feeding his own people first. When Jesus says it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs, he is using traditional Jewish language. Jews in his day often referred to Gentiles as dogs. Jesus softens the word, however. The word he uses means not dogs but puppies. Even this does not discourage the woman. Without missing a beat she comes right back with the remark: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” To understand what she is saying, we must know the eating habits of the day. Food was eaten with the fingers, which were wiped afterwards with pieces of flat bread that were then cast aside to be eaten by the household dogs.
Or was Jesus testing the woman’s faith? If so, she passed that test too. For Jesus responds: “For such a reply, be off now! The demon has already left your daughter.” In Jesus’ day illness of all kinds was thought to be caused by demons.
The beautiful conclusion of this moving story follows at once. “When the woman got home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”
This desperate and nameless woman is a model of love and faith. We pray in this Mass for the Lord to give us her perseverance, and her faith.