Matthew 15:21-28 | 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jesus in a Sound Bite?
Jesus offers many potential lessons for us to take from this gospel passage:
- Persistence in prayer—Even after seemingly being called a dog by the man she has come to honor (v. 25), the woman keeps doesn’t give up and parries with Jesus, an exchange that appears to lead to the healing of her daughter.
- Reminder of who we pay homage to—The woman immediately kneels before Jesus unlike the disciples, His chosen twelve who are of the “house of Israel” (v. 24). Not only do we not see them kneel before Jesus, they often think they know better than He does: “Send her away” (v. 23).
- Temperance of our fear of the “other”— The story continues beyond the initial exchange, and she receives an answer to her prayer. A Canaanite woman, an enemy, approached Jesus, worshiped Him, parried with Him, and has her prayer answered by Him, but Jesus actually sought her out. He “withdrew” (v. 21) to her region. He knew He was going to be in the territory of the “other,” and He chose to be in their company, seemingly without fear.
- Confidence in our prayer life— The woman boldly approaches Jesus and asks, confident that He can, and will, grant her request. After Jesus responds, “Let it be done for you as you wish” (v. 28), I imagine she walks back home, her head high as she blinks away dust from the road, excited to see her healed daughter, no doubt in her mind that it would be just as Jesus said. I covet that kind of confidence in my prayer life.
We are probably meant to consider all of these, but I am fixated on whether Jesus really called this woman a dog. I know the story continues and the woman’s prayer is answered. In today’s world, however, verse 26 would become a sound bite. Social media would broadcast that Jesus said Canaanites were “dogs.” Then, confident they were doing Jesus’s will, Christians world-wide would laser-focus hate on Canaanites, possibly causing untold damage, never learning the rest of the story.
Throughout His life, Jesus made it clear that He came for all. But in a sound bite, this gospel condenses to the opposite of the true message. What other Christian “sound bites” have distorted His real message?
The punch gives sound bites their power, but Jesus ignored punch for depth. He looked for the whole story. That’s why faith is relational and that’s why He came at all—so we could have a relationship with the living God and get the whole story. He looked to our heart and wanted us to look for it in each other as well. Hearts are only revealed through relationship. Persistence, trust, and confidence can’t be found in a sound bite. But when we do look beyond the tweet, we find Him, the “Christ ….in all” (Col. 3:11).