Lectio: Matthew 15:21-28
1) Opening prayer
Father of everlasting goodness,
our origin and guide,
be close to us
and hear the prayers of all who praise You.
Forgive our sins and restore us to life.
Keep us safe in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 15:21-28
At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He 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." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Context. The bread of the children and the great faith of a Canaanite woman is the theme presented in the liturgical passage taken from chapter 15 of Matthew, who proposes to the reader of his Gospel a further deepening of faith in Christ. The episode is preceded by an initiative of the Pharisees and scribes, who go down to Jerusalem and cause a dispute to take place with Jesus, but which did not last long, because He, together with His disciples, withdrew to go to the region of Tyre and Sidon. While He is on the way, a woman from the pagan region comes to Him. This woman is presented by Matthew by the name of “a Canaanite woman” who, in the light of the Old Testament, is presented with great harshness. In the Book of Deuteronomy the inhabitants of Canaan were considered people full of sins: evil and idolatrous people.
• The dynamic of the account. While Jesus carries out His activity in Galilee and is on the way toward Tyre and Sidon, a woman comes up to Him and begins to bother Him with a petition for help for her sick daughter. The woman addresses Jesus using the title “Son of David,” a title which sounds strange pronounced by a pagan and that could be justified because of the extreme situation in which the woman finds herself. It could be thought that this woman already believes in some way, in the person of Jesus as final Savior, but this is excluded because it is only in v. 28 that her act of faith is recognized precisely by Jesus. In the dialogue with the woman Jesus seems to show that distance and diffidence which reigned between the people of Israel and the pagans. On one side Jesus confirms to the woman the priority for Israel to have access to salvation, and before the insistent prayer of His interlocutor Jesus seems to withdraw, to be at a distance; an incomprehensible attitude for the reader, but in the intention of Jesus it expresses an act of pedagogical value. To the first invocation “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David” (v. 22) Jesus does not respond. To the second intervention, this time on the part of the disciples, who invite Him to listen to the woman’s prayer, He only expresses rejection that stresses that secular distance between the chosen people and the pagan people (vv. 23b-24). But at the insistence of the prayer of the woman who bows before Jesus, a harsh and mysterious response follows: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs” (v. 26). The woman goes beyond the harsh response of Jesus’ words and gets a small sign of hope: the woman recognizes that God’s plan being carried out by Jesus initially concerns the chosen people, and Jesus asks the woman to recognize that priority; the woman takes advantage of that priority to present a strong reason to obtain the miracle: “Ah yes, Lord, but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27). The woman has exceeded the test of faith: “Woman, you have great faith” (v. 28); in fact, to the humble insistence of her faith corresponds a salvific gesture.
This episode addresses an invitation to every reader of the Gospel to have that interior attitude of “openness” toward everyone, believers or not, that is to say, availability and acceptance without distinction toward all people.
4) Personal questions
• The disturbing word of God invites you to break open your smugness and all of your small plans. Are you capable of accepting all the brothers and sisters who come to you?
• Are you aware of your poverty to be able, like the Canaanite woman, to entrust yourself to Jesus’ word of salvation?
5) Concluding Prayer
Lord, do not thrust me away from Your presence;
do not take away from me Your spirit of holiness.
Give me back the joy of Your salvation,
sustain in me a generous spirit. (Ps 51:11-12)