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August 16, 1996     The Message
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1 | ! ! | ! I | 1 I 1 t | 1 J ! ! i ! ! i t l ] I t | ! 1 | ! ! i' ! August 16, 1996 -- Commentary--- The Message w for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 1 A Canaanite woman'.,; request: Exclusion or inclusion? Gospel Commentary for Au- gust 18, 1996: Twentieth Sun- day: Ordinary Time: Cycle A" Matthew 15:21-28 A non-Jewish woman ap- proaches Jesus with a plea for her daughter who is very ill, "pos- sessed by a demon." Not only did Jesus ignore her but his disciples asked him to send her away. She continued to follow them with her plea. Jesus finally responded: "I was sent only to the lostsheep of the house of Israel." This did not stop her. She fell on her knees be- By FATHER DON DILGER COLUMNIST fore Jesus with an additional plea: "Lord, help me!" To this plea Jesus responded with a proverb: "It is not fair to take the bread of the children and throw it to the dogs." According to Semitic custom, being confronted with a proverb was an invitation to come back with a better proverb, a refutation. She did: "Yes, Lord, but even the little puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." With this proverb she has won Jesus to her cause: "Woman, great is your faith. Be it done to you as you wish." One approach toward an interpretation of this story is to compare Matthew's version with the changes he made in the story when he copied it from Mark's gospel. Mark called the woman "a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth." Matthew changes this to "Canaanite." The change seems intentional to por- tray the woman as all the more obnoxious. The word "Canaanite" recalled all the .curses and condemna- tions and holocausts committed against the native peoples of Palestine when the Israelites took over. According to their concept of the divine will they were to exterminate the Canaanites when they entered the promised land under their leader Joshua. Matthew has something in mind. Her original rejection by Jesus, the disciples' request of Jesus to get rid of her, his insistence that his mission was to Israelites only, the proverb that refers to Canaanites or Gentiles as "dogs," all these are in- tended by Matthew to portray the utter unacceptance of Gentiles, es- pecially Canaanites, by Old Testa- ment tradition. The woman's re- sponse recalls the penalty sometimes inflicted by the Israelites upon the Canaanites for being Canaanites. Their big toes and their thumbs were cut off and they were al- lowed to eat the scraps that fell or were thrown from the table. They were treated like dogs. For Matthew, however, the woman's statement is a deeply theological statement. This is why he changed the Marcan version. Mark had written, "The little puppies under the table eat the crumbs of the children." Matthew wrote, "They eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." In other words, the puppies are part of the household, not just stray dogs who belong to no one. To put it in more directly theological terminology: God is the God not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles, even the biblically banned Canannites. Matthew here reflects a major debate in the first century Christian Churches. One must remem- ber that Christianity was a religious movement that grew within Judaism. As Jesus was totally a Jew born of a Jewish woman into a Jewish family, so were his disciples and all the earliest Christians. They were all schooled in the biblical traditions of exclusion of Canaanites. Persecution by Jewish leadership of the Christian movement as heretical, the eventual failure of the Christian mission to Ju- daism,- the interest of non-Jews, i.e. Gentiles, in the Christian movement, all these factors led to the ac- ceptance of non-Jews into the Church. But were they really part of the family? Matthew emphati- cally and repeatedly affirms that they are. He does so not only in this story but by including four Gen- tile women, one of them a Canaanite in the geneal- ogy of Jesus, by the visit of the Magi, Gentiles who honor Jesus as king, and finally by Jesus' command at the end of Matthew's gospel, "Co, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them .... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Not only are they members of the family of God, but they are to have the same rights and privileges, so says Matthew. The struggle for acceptance and equality in the Christian Church has continued throughout its his- tory into our time. It was reflected in the secondary status within the Church of black people, of native Americans, of divorced people. Women would say it is reflected not only in what seems to be their sec- ondary status in the Church, but also by their exclu- sion from Holy Orders. It is reflected in the differ- ence in status and privilege between hierarchy and other clergy, between priests and deacons, between clergy and laity. The basic problem may tm the ques- tion of whether we are all servants of one another or is there a caste system of higher and lower? This basic problem also surfaces in the Gospel of Matthew. The question for us to consider: Who are today' s Canaanites? Who are today's Canaanite women? Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6.7; Romans 11:13. 15, 29.32. "Where customers send their friends!" Open nightly til 9 p.m. BANK MFY41m OLD NAONAL mANCOLP I :i WASHINGTON-SHOALS-LOOGOOTEE ! , oP & Sons t ...Gee.@ TOYOTA Built with Quality OLD US 231 SOUTH JASPER, IN 482-2222 to Save You 1-800-93-:USA1 Time & Money ' I  BGINES d'P, AIISMISSIONS J Factory and General Office Hwy. 231 S., Jasper, IN (812) 482-1041 t-  1812) 254-2641 RUXER 1K00,I00I00I00 BU,LO,NG Golden Jubilarians FORD ff;' ) MERCURY LINCOLN ! 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