But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Now we get to the woman’s final challenge. This one is almost too much to bear. God insults her, calling her a little dog. But as we discussed in our Sunday meditation – and this gets back to the name of this week’s Gospel, Reminiscere (“remember, O Lord!”) – to be engaged in conversation and have words spoken for you is to have your existence recalled to mind, and when the one doing that recalling is the Lord, that is actually a good thing.
So Jesus’ insults are at least an acknowledgment of the woman’s existence. Before it was only silence.
I guess, His disciples’ complaining about her began the process of her being put on His mind. In the same way the Church, no matter how perverse it can become as an institution, because it’s loved by the Lord at least puts on His mind those who seek it out. The Church is the gateway to the Lord, being the guardian of His doctrine for the people, and the presenter of sinners and suppliants to the Lord.
In any event, the woman comes on the Lord’s radar, and that’s a good thing. It’s not unlike how psychologically we’d often rather be hated by someone we care about than forgotten. To be hated is at least still to be a “thing” in someone’s mind; to be forgotten is to be a nothing.
[An interesting question is, what is hell? Is it the place where you are forgotten by the Lord, or where out of His hatred for your rebellious sinfulness you exist as a tangible thing residing in place that is the manifestation of a hated place in His mind? If the former – which can make sense based on some texts – we have to wonder if one can even have existence if forgotten by God, and this would lend credence to the idea that hell is a metaphor for being in oblivion. If the latter – which makes sense from the texts which talk of actual suffering and pain to the body – then you wonder if there is some perverse grace in knowing that, though suffering, you’re at least still “known” by God.]
The Lord engages her with His Word: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel….It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
In the midst of this word is the woman’s yelp – “Lord help me!” – that led to Jesus making the metaphor of bread and dogs, thereby granting the woman entrance into His words, like a character given a script and allowed on stage. She’s part of “the little dogs.” Well, even little dogs get listed in the credits!
And of course she runs with it, seeing an opening for her dogs at the foot of the table eating the bread crumbs. If that’s what it takes, she’ll take it. She also must have known Jesus’ words about the faith of a mustard seed, because she’s convinced that a crumb would be enough to cast a demon out of her daughter. Maybe it’s not moving mountains, but when you’re a parent, moving mountains is a parlor trick compared to what you want if your child is sick.
Let’s develop Jesus’ Word a bit, because especially in the Gospel of Matthew, we have to understand it in the larger catechetical structure of that Gospel.
Jesus said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel….It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
Is it irony that He’s wandering around in Tyre and Sidon? If He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, what’s He doing up there where He was not sent? Hmmm, or maybe He’s going exactly where He was sent, not to a spacial-racial area, but to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” who include those of Tyre and Sidon who, well, seek Him out praying “Lord have mercy.” Didn’t John the Baptist proclaim God is able to raise up children of Abraham from the stones? If you think about it, the woman could have also responded to Jesus, “Then what the hell are you doing up here? Am I among the lost sheep of the house of Israel?”
Whatever it takes to get on Jesus’ radar! (And don’t ever deny this use of prayer in your own prayer life. Sometimes prayer is wrestling with the Lord, like Israel, trying to sneak into His grace by hanging onto whatever crumb of a word He gives you.)
In any event, first Jesus suggests an opening up of what the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” are, simply by where He locates Himself. Second, He uses the bread image to describe the current situation He’s in: a woman begging for help for her daughter. There’s two parts of this image, first that human need is a human hunger, and second that He can fulfill it with a sort of bread.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Putting it all together, Jesus says He came for lost sheep, found anywhere, who pray “Lord have mercy,” hungering for the bread of salvation, and He will fulfill it.
Remember when we meditated that all of the Scripture is liturgical?
And we haven’t even gotten to the further fulfillment of Matthew’s “bread” theme. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 a chapter earlier, commonly seen as the “Jewish” feeding of the multitudes. And the next chapter Jesus feeds the 4,000, often seen as the “Gentile” feeding of the multitudes. Yes, Jesus will give the gentiles the bread of salvation, the bread of which He says “This is My Body,” feeding their deeper hunger for righteousness, for mercy, for salvation.
The Canaanite woman led the way, responding with the Kyrie when Jesus sought out lost sheep in Tyre and Sidon.