From the Pastor – August 16, 2020

daily massJesus said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (Mt. 15:26-27)

For the first 36 years of my life, I spent a lot of time listening to homilies at Mass, rather than giving them.  Of course, I’ve heard some really amazing homilies.  But I’ve also heard some that didn’t say a lot to me.  One of my biggest pet peeves was when there was a line in the Gospel that begged to be explained and the homilist ignored it like nobody heard it.

I think that the above quote from this Sunday’s Gospel is just that sort of quote.  Think about it, did Jesus just call that woman a “dog”?  That’s pretty strong language here!  And she just took it??

First of all, we have to begin with the recognition that the Jews of the time of Jesus referred to the Gentiles around which they lived as “dogs” and “swine” because they were unbelievers who did not keep the law of Moses, especially those on diet and ritual purity.  And so in an earlier part of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to “give what is holy to dogs” (Mt. 7:6).  This is a simple recognition that there will always be unbelievers.  Obviously, something holy like the Eucharist is not to be given to someone who doesn’t believe.

We have to remember that Jesus came first to the Jewish people, to whom God had promised (through the prophets) to send a Savior.  And Jesus came to fulfill that promise.  Later, His mission extended to the Gentiles.

But what about this Canaanite woman?  First of all, is she really an unbeliever?  Think about it.  She calls Jesus “Lord, Son of David,” which seems to point to both His divinity and His humanity.  So why does Jesus obliquely refer to her as a “dog.”  I think you would have had to see the expression on His face and heard his words in the Gospel’s original Greek.  When Jesus says not to throw what is holy to “dogs” earlier in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 7:6), He uses the Greek word kuwn (“cu-on”) from where we get the English word “canine.”  But when He addresses the Canaanite woman, he uses the Greek word kunarion (“cunarion”), which doesn’t mean a wild, “outside” dog, but a dog that eats at his master’s feet and sleeps in his master’s room.  This is the little puppy that we can’t stop petting.  I can detect a sly smile where Jesus rewards this woman’s faith in Him by deviating slightly from His mission (as He had done with Mary at Cana) and lets her know she was His little puppy dog.  And she understands, calls Him master, and begs for a snack.  And He rewards her faith, curing her daughter and undoubtedly eventually leading her to the Heavenly banquet. Humility is a great virtue, and a prerequisite of faith.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty