This morning's Gospel is both confusing and embarrassing, It paints Jesus in very harsh terms. A pagan woman, an outsider, a foreigner, approaches him to ask for help. At first he ignores her. But when the woman persists, he tells her that his mission is to the Jewish people. But the woman again persists in her request. Then he seems to insult her, saying it's not right to throw good food, meant for Jewish sons and daughters, to dogs.
Is this really Jesus speaking, the Compassionate One? Yes, it is! Remember, Jesus was a Jewish man, proud of his family, his religion and his heritage. He had to grow into his role. So he had to grow in age, wisdom and grace, the Scriptures tell us; but he also reflected the thoughts of his people at the time. It was a common belief among the Jews that they alone were especially loved by God. Gentiles such as this pagan woman and ourselves, we are simply fellow actors on the stage of Jewish history, used and then discarded as God sees fit. Many Jewish followers of Christ brought this deep-rooted prejudice with them, including Matthew, the writer of this Gospel. Ultimately of course, the compassionate heart of Jesus embraces the brave heart of this Gentile woman pleading for her daughter's well-being.
Prejudice is a conclusion we reach by considering the shallow, the superficial, the “outside” of people and things. Prejudice is evident in politicians, in church leaders, in church-goers, in everyone of us. We entertain many prejudices in our lives, oftentimes without ever realizing it. But Jesus, when challenged by this woman, looked at her deeply enough to discover the core of who and what she was. Paying attention to her human heart, he was able to grow nor just in age but in wisdom and grace. When we pay more attention to the “inside” of people and less attention to their “outside,” we too will grow in age, wisdom and grace. So be it!