Tuesday, August 02, 2005



AUGUST 3, 2005

NUMBERS 13:1-2,25-14:1,26-29,34-35
The LORD said to Moses, "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan,
which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one
of its leaders." At the end of forty days they returned from exploring
the land. They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite
community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them
and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They
gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us,
and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people
who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very
large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in
the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill
country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up
and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." But the
men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they
are stronger than we are." And they spread among the Israelites a bad
report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we
explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of
great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come
from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we
looked the same to them."That night all the people of the community
raised their voices and wept aloud. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
"How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard
the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, `As surely
as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard
you say: In this desert your bodies will fall--every one of you twenty
years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled
against me. For forty years--one year for each of the forty days you
explored the land--you will suffer for your sins and know what it is
like to have me against you.' I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will
surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded
together against me. They will meet their end in this desert;
here they will die."

MATTHEW 15:21-28
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A
Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son
of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from
demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came
to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after
us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The
woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied,
"It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their
dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that
fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have
great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from
that very hour.

How do we explain Jesus' behavior towards the Canaanite women in
today's gospel? Throughout the gospels Jesus is uniformly gentle, kind
and compassionate. But here a mother asks him to cure her daughter
who's possessed by a demon 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 he 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, it's like calling out, "Hey, Jew."

Jesus didn't react openly to the woman's insulting call. He just went
on as though he hadn't heard her. She continued to follow him and the
disciples were getting more and more embarrassed. "Do something about
her. Give her what she wants. Get her off our backs." Jesus says to
them, "I've been sent only to Jews." It's as though he said, "She
calls me a Jew, so why should I worry about a non-Jew."

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." One
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 his implied rebuke because she answered him, "don't dogs
have some rights in your house?"

Whether this understanding of the incident is correct or not, in the
end Jesus granted the woman's request. In the process that went
before, he had to deal publicly with a gentile, and a woman. Jews in
general, despised gentiles, and the Jewish man had little respect for
women. Jesus granted her request to the gentile and publicly praised
the woman's faith while granting her request. In actual fact he rose
above both these Jewish prejudices.

"Lord, your love and mercy knows no bounds. May I trust you always and
pursue you with indomitable persistence as this woman did. Increase my
faith in your saving power and deliver me for all evil and harm. "

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