I had a chuckle over a story about a man who rushed down to the local supermarket on a Saturday afternoon to pick up a few snack items. The big game was going to be on, and he was having a few friends over to watch it.
The store was loaded with shoppers. And as he headed for the 12-items-or-less express lane – the only one that did not have a long line – a woman cut him off and slipped into that check-out line, pushing a shopping cart piled high with groceries. The man was fuming.
But then the clever cashier motioned for the woman to come forward. The cashier looked at her overflowing cart and asked ever so sweetly: “So dearie, which twelve items would you like to buy today?”
That story reminds me a bit of the spirit of the woman in today’s Gospel who was clever and determined to get her request met by Jesus. Let’s look at this Gospel together.
This is the only occasion that we know of in Jesus’ adult life when He was outside of Jewish territory.
There was no place in Palestine where He could escape the crowds. He wanted to prepare His disciples for His approaching passion and death. So He went to the Gentile districts of Tyre and Sidon because no self-respecting Jew would follow Him there. But even in this foreign territory He still encountered the demands of human need.
There was a woman who came to Jesus, asking: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” And “Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.”
His disciples said to Him: “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” They saw her as a nuisance. They wanted Jesus to grant her request simply to get rid of her. Their motives were not at all out of love and compassion for her.
But for Jesus there was a problem. He said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” His mission was to begin with the Jews. And here was a Gentile woman crying for mercy. There was only one thing for Jesus to do: He must awaken true faith in her heart.
The woman then came and did Jesus homage, saying: “Lord, help me.”
So Jesus says to her: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
To call a person “a dog” is a contemptuous insult. But the tone and the look with which something is said can make all the difference.
We can call a friend “an old devil” or “a rascal” with a smile and a tone that can take all of the sting out of it and fill it with affection. I picture Jesus saying this to the woman with a smile on His face and with compassion in His eyes.
And the Greek word for “dogs” here does not mean the diseased and savage street dogs who probed the garbage heaps. But rather the household pets that would stay at your feet and climb into your lap.
So the woman, with her clever Greek wit, replies: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
And Jesus’ eyes lit up with joy at her faith and He granted her the healing for her daughter that she so desired: “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the girl was healed at that very hour.
What do we learn from this woman and her encounter with Jesus?
First and foremost, she had love. She made the misery of her child her own. Although a pagan, she would approach this stranger, Jesus, and would even accept His silence and His apparent rebuffs out of love for her daughter. And there is nothing stronger and nothing nearer to God than love that comes from the heart.
She also had faith. And it was a faith that grew through her contact with Jesus. She began by calling Him “Son of David,” a popular political title. She ended by calling Jesus “Lord.” Jesus wanted her to see that “a request to a great man” must be turned into “a prayer to the living God.” And she did.
And this woman had the gift of cheerfulness. She had her troubles and yet she could still smile. God loves the cheerful person, in whose eyes there is always the light of hope.
This loving, faith-filled and cheerfully-clever woman did indeed move through the express line to Jesus and received from Him an answer to her shopping cart full of prayers.
This Gospel invites us to imitate her faith which, in the end, was rewarded with God’s bountiful blessings.