21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. 29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down.30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
I have had so much fun wrestling through these difficult passages in Matthew. I have to confess, however, my first instinct when I come across texts like this one is to look for the soft angle. My instinct asks, "How can I read this in such a way that whatever comes across as harsh or challenging isn't so… well… harsh or challenging?" I guess this is understandable because I still believe that God is a loving God. That has been revealed to me time and time again in scripture and in my own life and relationship with God, and I think it is an appropriate image of God to cling to. It can, however, make it too easy for me to toss aside the tough things that Jesus says — the things that often challenge our perception of how we are called to live in the world. That being said (fully aware of my tendencies), when Jesus says to the Canaanite woman “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” I wonder if the tone of Jesus response is lost to us in the written word. Could a loving God really consider a person, who by no fault of her own, was born a Canaanite — outside of God's chosen people Israel — to be a "dog?" See, I don't think the point of what Jesus says to the Canaanite woman is to, "put her in her place." I actually think this exchange was much more playful than it may come across on the printed page. It is a pretty common understanding that the priority of Jesus' "mission" while on earth was Israel. Ultimately his life and death and resurrection was for ALL… but Jesus came first to bring redemption TO his chosen people Israel and then to the Gentiles (including Canaanites, Samaritans, you, me, and everyone else) THROUGH his chosen people by the presence of his Spirit with them. The disciples come to Jesus asking him to send this woman away. They were annoyed by her… and she wasn't, "one of them" anyway… so get her out of our face, right? But Jesus responded very differently (as he often did/does) then how they might have expected. He gives his followers a living example of the mission to which they will soon be called, and he gives a woman (a fact that has its own significance) a foretaste (even the "scraps" from the table of the Savior are like a grand feast!) of what God has in store for the whole world with the coming of his kingdom. Her daughter was healed. That, my friends, is a picture of a loving God. No need to "soften" anything. The one with all authority and power over this world chooses to love even those that are cast aside as "dogs." Even more, the "dogs" are no longer resigned to beg at the table, we are now welcome AT THE TABLE as members of the family of God.
As the day's light breaks the darkness of the night, as the first movements of the morning pierce the night's stillness, so a new waking to life dawns within me, so a fresh beginning opens.
In the early light of this day, in the first actions of the morning, let me be awake to life.
In my soul and in my seeing let me be alive to the gift of this new day, let me be fully alive. (from "Sounds of the Eternal – A Celtic Psalter"