20th Sunday A: Scraps from the Table

 For an audio of the homily:

My mother (God rest her) used to sneak food under the table regularly to her beloved cocker spaniel, Buffy. Sometimes, when I visited home after becoming a priest I’d say to her–in a losing attempt to keep Buffy’s weight down– “Mom, you shouldn’t feed that dog scraps from the table.”

She’d reply, “You don’t live here. Besides, I’m not feeding him scraps from the table. He’s eating the same food we eat.”

I could never understand the logic of her answer, but I gradually gave up trying to stop her. And I remember her every time I hear this gospel,

Jews and gentiles didn’t mix in Jesus’ time and as an observant Jew from Nazareth, Jesus usually avoided eating with them and entering their homes. After his baptism in the Jordan he saw himself sent first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But then, gentiles like the Roman centurion from Capernaum and this Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon came to him.

Matthew’s gospel says the woman was “calling out” to him from a distance, asking him to cure her daughter, but Jesus doesn’t answer. She keeps calling out in spite of his silence. “Send her away,” his disciples say, but the woman persists and even draws nearer.

“It’s not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus finally says. But the woman’s answer has a logic of its own. “Please Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that come from their master’s table.” “ Let it be done for you as you wish,” he says and God fed her from the table.

Jesus’ answer to the woman sounds hard, doesn’t it? But sometimes doesn’t the silence of God seem just like that? A daughter’s sick, a wife is dying of cancer, a child is taken away so young. Is the woman calling out to Jesus an example that persistent prayer is always heard, even if God seems silent, even when God seems not to care?

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