5th Thursday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 2: 18 – 25; Ps 128; Mark 7: 24 – 30
Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere, a scripture scholar, once shared an experience he had in modern day Syrophoenicia. After Mass a boy approached him somewhat upset; the gospel was the one we just heard. The boy asked the priest, “Why did Jesus call us dogs?” It was the pronoun “us” that made the question so disturbing.
Down through the ages, this boy has not been alone in being disturbed by Jesus’ reply to this Gentile woman, crouched and begging at his feet. Even though the word “dogs” is actually a diminutive in the original version – translated “little dogs or puppies” – and could seem to soften Jesus’s words – dogs, big or little, in the Jewish world were considered unclean. Nevertheless, the woman, in anguish over her daughter is not put off – she persists – her rejoinder comes immediately: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” And with that, Jesus grants her plea.
There is a lesson on faith in this Gospel. Can we not say that faith has a power over God because God wills it so. He wills to respond to an act of faith – how and when He responds is according to His wisdom and mercy. That God welcomes our faith is a consolation and a welcome encouragement in our own journey of faith – a journey not always easy.
I believe there is something about the mystery of the Incarnation in this Gospel. Jesus, God and Man, entered completely into human life – at a certain time, in a certain place among a certain people – the Israelites. He took upon Himself their customs, their attitudes, their ways. Jesus did not pretend, was not just an actor in some kind of play, He truly entered into human life, the Jewish life of His time.
There is also another aspect of the Incarnation in this Gospel. It calls to mind a sentence in St. Luke’s Gospel – Jesus had been found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, returned to Nazareth with them and St. Luke writes: “And Jesus advanced in wisdom, age and favor before God and man.” In that verse there is no limit, period of duration for that advancement – it went on all through His life. I believe it happened in the encounter with the woman. Jesus is very clear, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” – “It is not right!” The woman challenged Him and through her He saw it was right to grant her request. The Son of God and the Son of Mary advanced in wisdom – a mystery, for sure.
It is a lesson for us that our journey in our relationship with God, self, others is to be an advancing, a growing in wisdom, age and favor before God and others. Complacency is not really faith – the desire to journey into the love of God definitely is and there is no substitute.