Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
The figure of Jesus I had in my mind is that of a universal man. A man, who understood, welcomed, reached out and came to save everyone. Why not? He was a king in essence, yet born in a poor family. He was the most just man, yet his friends were sinners, zealots, criminals, prostitutes. He was condemned to die for a crime he never committed by the people for whom he worked wonders, yet he never complained. In fact, he forgave. A true imagery of a saviour.
This image shattered the very moment I read the episode of his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. The dark side of every so called saviours. OK, Jesus is no less than others. A common man with his weaknesses.
Wait, that’s not supposed to be.
He is God. His disciples who wrote the gospels wouldn’t have wanted this to come out if it had the so called dark side, or moreover if it didn’t communicate a message – that he wanted to be proclaimed. Let’s see what happened.
Jesus is at Tyre. He seeks privacy. Alas! That is one thing a celebrity can never hope for.The Syro-Phoenician woman is one among the many who intrudes into his ‘private time’. Maybe Jesus is a bit irritated. Of course his guests are oftener those who seek healing. However, in this case, the woman is expecting Jesus to heal her daughter who is away, at home. “I wanted privacy, a little rest… OK, I thought I could help you… if you brought the case to me; but, you are asking me to come with you.”Obviously that is much more irritating. Jesus tries to ignore her, but, she persists. Then, he tries to chase her away, also being a little rude; comparing her to a dog. That is the extreme. When you know someone is at your mercy, then you take to humiliating them. Not a GOD I want to worship. At this point, if I were at the place of that woman, the best I would do is turn back and go.
Now, here is the twist in the story. She isn’t disheartened. She persists (Obviously, she is better than me). The ‘dog’ that she ‘is’, its characteristics are hers too. A dog’s place is outside the house. It guards the master’s house. It is faithful, loyal and is purely at the mercy of the master, and is happy when the master pats it, always wagging its tail in expectation for more and circling around the master. The left-over bones of the master’s feast is its food.The Syro-Phoenician woman manifests her faith in the Lord. “a dog that I am, I seek your kindness O Master, throw me not the meat from your table, but the bones that you plan to waste. That would suffice to satiate my hunger.”Her persistence is rewarded.Jesus is taken up by her faith and her wish is granted. Her daughter is cured of her illness.
The gospel of today teaches us the value of perseverance. It is not just about perseverance. It is also about learning to make the best out of the negativities in life, like this woman who transforms an insult thrown at her into one of the greatest proclamation of faith. In fact, we see in the gospels that Jesus healed those who came to him, mostly the chosen people. And he tells them all invariably, “your faith has saved you.” However, it is the gentiles, the ‘godless’, who exhibited the greater faith… they are healed from a distance. Jesus didn’t have to touch them or go to them… as in the case of this Syro-Phoenician woman and the Roman centurion. He doesn’t forget to laud them.
So, I think Jesus was not being rude. But, he was teaching us all a lesson. He is asking us to have greater faith. For great things are expected of those who have been given more. “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.”