Pastor's Desk: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted 16th August 2014 in Pastor's Desk

In place of the Pastor’s Desk this week, we include the following extract from Intercom Magazine:

The Deep End - It’s a Test

If it is a test, the Canaanite woman passes with flying colours! Her faith is impressive. When Jesus ignores her initial appeal, she tries again. And when he knocks her back, she replies with a witty retort: ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’

I always find this exchange amusing. At first reading, it seems that the woman has got one up on Jesus. He attempted to fob her off, and her quick wit has caught him out. We can imagine him chuckling as he concedes ‘Woman, you have great faith’.

But the exchange also makes me wonder: what was Jesus really up to? By the end of the conversation, he is clearly impressed with the woman’s faith, her wit and her wisdom. But why the test? Why does he try to fob her off, and why the dog reference?

In the Gospels, Jesus often tests his followers. He certainly tests Peter and the other disciples. He challenges them to think, and to come up with the right answers. Perhaps he is testing not only the woman’s faith but also his disciples’. In using the analogy of a ‘house-dog’, he may well be giving voice to the thoughts of his disciples. They would have little time for this Canaanite woman, a Gentile. They certainly would not have expected her to demonstrate such faith.

Perhaps it was an exchange that would come back to them at a later date as they expanded their mission to the Gentiles. Paul would later talk of God’s mercy ‘to all mankind’ (see today’s Second Reading). A far cry from ‘house-dogs’!

Tríona Doherty

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