First Reading: Jer. 31:1-7
Psalm: Jer .31:10, 11-12ab, 13
Gospel: Mt. 15: 21-28
Throughout all four Gospels Jesus is uniformly gentle, kind and compassionate. But in today’s reading, a mother begs him to cure her daughter and he pays no attention to her at all. Finally he does recognize her, only to insult her: “It’s not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.” He’s calling the woman and her daughter “dogs.”
One explanation ascribes Jesus’ unusual reaction to the woman’s use of the title, “Son of David.” The woman calls Jesus, “Sir,” and then she adds, “Son of David.” In the context, “Son of David” is insulting. Jesus is in a foreign land. Calling him “Son of David” is identifying him as a Jew, a foreigner.
Jesus goes on as though he hasn’t heard her. She continues to follow him and the disciples are getting more embarrassed, and say to Jesus, “Do something about her.” Jesus replies, “I’ve been sent only to Jews.” Finally, Jesus stops; the woman falls at his feet, and pleads with him to cure her daughter. Jesus then speaks those unbelievable words: “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” A commentator suggests Jesus was continuing the rather awkward, discriminatory approach used by the woman when she called him “Son of David.” Maybe he wanted to show her how unfair she was. And maybe she understood because she answered him, “Don’t dogs have some rights in your house?”
Jesus grants the woman’s request. As he has done in the past, he deals publicly with a Gentile, and a woman. In Jesus’ time, Jews despised Gentiles and had little or no respect for women. Jesus granted to this Gentile woman the request she had made and publicly praised her faith while granting her request. He clearly felt himself absolutely free to disregard these two Jewish prejudices. The incident is really an invitation to us to review our own prejudices.