August 20, 2017
Sr Phyllis Jaszkowiak
Listen to the reflection here.
As I began to prepare these reflections my immediate reaction to the story in the gospel was, “Jesus, don’t be a jerk!” Then I had to read it again and pray with it. None of the commentators I read called Jesus a jerk. They had other ways of describing what this story might mean.
Each of them alluded to the fact that Jesus, in his humanity, had to grow in his awareness of his mission. That it was not just to the House of Israel, but to the whole world. The actions of the woman helped Jesus to see that God’s mercy and love, that was in him, was to be given to anyone who needed it, even if they were not the same culture, country or religion as he.
The woman comes aggressively asking Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t respond, although the apostles do with the plea, “Send her away.” The woman then kneels down in front of Jesus, blocking his way, so he has to respond in some way.
His response is rather insulting, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She does not take the bait. Rather, thinking only of her daughter, who needs healing, responds, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
The woman could have taken Jesus’ response and gotten angry, accused him of being insensitive, or yelled at him and left. Instead, she focused on what her daughter needed and so, using a comeback, enabled Jesus to grow and grant her the healing of her daughter.
The woman does not trade insult for insult, but uses her humor and vulnerability to obtain the healing her daughter needed. Most mothers also keep asking and working to obtain what their children need.
I think of my uncle and aunt who had a developmentally disabled child. They worked in their state of Wisconsin, during the 1940’s and 1950’s, to get help for their daughter. Through their efforts, not only did the state, begin to help their daughter, but also began to help all children with disabilities to receive the help they, and their families, needed. As a result, we have all benefitted from the knowledge gained then as we continue to grow in helping those with disabilities.
I think, too, of the recent events in Charlottesville, and the hate that seems to be on the rise in our country. In the August 2017 edition of Sojourners, there is an article ”Confessions of a Former White Supremacist”. Tony McAleer, the former White Supremacist, began a group called “Life After Hate” for those who wish to no longer live out of hate, but begin to live out of love. As McAleer says, “We try to help people reconnect with their humanity.” To live out of love one must begin to know oneself as a person who is loved, and to know the other person as one worthy of love, and get rid of all the stereotypes about people.
Jesus shows us that to grow in love we need to listen, really listen, to others. When we listen we hear new ideas, different ways of doing things, ways of understanding the world we hadn’t considered before. Listening, if we are open, shifts our mindsets a bit, we come to know more the ways of God who made us all, and helps us to become more of the loving, kind people we are made to be.
Jesus listened to the woman and there was a shift inside him. He realized, through her, that his mission was broader than just to Israel. He more fully understood what God said through the prophet Isaiah, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Jesus also learned that true mercy has no bounds, it, too, is for everyone.
Jesus’ response, “O Woman great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish,” was more than just granting her wish. It was a thank you to her for helping him grow into being more loving, more Godlike.
We are invited, commanded almost, to listen to each other. Listen to those of different beliefs, different cultures, different colors, different ages, different life experiences, so that we can grow in respect of, compassion for, and hospitality to everyone.
God, who made us all, will help us in this growth by sending us people to help us, people we want to hear, and people with whom we would rather not engage. Let us open ourselves to others, and like Jesus, grow into becoming the people who spread love, mercy and compassion throughout our world.
Jason Byassee, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER WHITE SUPREMACIST, Sojourners Magazine August 2017. Pages 16 – 19.