In Psalm 34, a Psalm of David, which gives praise to God for deliverance from troubles, we read the sentence: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’. This tasting does not have the literal meaning of eating but the symbolic meaning of taking refuge in God. Those who fear the Lord will have no want and those who seek God ‘will lack no good thing’.
What matters then, according to the Psalmist, is faith in God and with that belief your needs will be satisfied. Thus feeding, and being fed, which is referred to throughout the Bible, couched as it is in the ordinary, everyday language that we understand today, has to be seen ultimately as being the hallmark of God’s covenant with us that we are his people and he is our God. From the Old Testament Passover meal, through to the New Testament shared meals and feeding narratives, culminating in the Last Supper and the Supper at Emmaus we have expressions of Divine purpose in God bringing us to him to be as one with him.
This oneness reaches its zenith, I believe, when Jesus blesses bread at the Last Supper and gives it to his disciples saying: ‘Take, eat, this is my body’ and then calling upon them to drink from a cup which he tells them is the blood of the covenant.
If we are all to become as one with God this means inclusion. If we look at today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter because he learns from her that she has included the dogs in a meal by feeding them with the crumbs that have fallen from their Master’s table. This is not just a ‘be kind to animals’ inclusion but something more profound. It symbolises the spread of the salvation history from the Jews to the Gentiles. The Jews are the children at the table and the Gentiles are the dogs that are sharing not scraps but crumbs of food from their table. It is this demonstration of inclusiveness by the Canaanite woman that leads Jesus to say to the woman ‘great is your faith’. I say ‘leads’ because his initial reaction is to ignore her pleading as he is adhering to his mission solely ‘to the Lost Sheep of Israel’ but her inclusiveness gives him the bigger picture of the mission to the Gentiles . So in this passage we have the extraordinary position of Jesus being influenced by an unnamed Gentile woman and healing her daughter as he sees her capacity to exhibit faith.
Faith, then, comes first in relationship to God and not whether you are a Jew or a Gentile. This is expressed in today’s epistle when Isaiah affirms that ‘foreigners who join themselves to the Lord’, provided they hold fast to his Covenant, will be brought to his holy mountain. It is also expressed in St Paul’s letter to the Romans in which we learn that we are ‘justified by faith’.
Returning to the mission of Jesus, we see in today’s Gospel reading an early reference to the mission to the Gentiles. This mission, though, is first to the Jews who we learn in today’s Gospel reading are ‘lost sheep’. What Matthew is giving us is the failure of the Jewish leaders to be good shepherds of their people. In the passage that precedes today’s reading they are accused by Jesus of being hypocrites who are ‘the blind guides of the blind’. He accuses them of putting tradition above what comes from the heart. As Luke warns in his Gospel: ‘Beware the yeast of the Pharisees’. It falls to Jesus then to be the Good Shepherd. Matthew affirms this in naming Jesus as ‘the Son of David’. When the Canaanite woman calls out to Jesus as ‘the Son of David’ this is Jesus as the Davidic shepherd who we find in chapter 34 of Ezekiel when God responds to the failure of Israel’s shepherd leaders by raising up his servant David to be their shepherd.
The Canaanite woman’s reward for her faith is the exorcism by Jesus of the demon that is possessing her daughter. Exorcism was one of the three healing miracles of Jesus, the others being cure and the resurrection of the dead. What all the miracles have in common is that they are delivered freely.
It would not be inappropriate for us today to pray for a miracle to bring the Corona virus to an end. While we make this petition to God we can at least go on helping each other out as everyone has been doing. The rest we must leave to the professionals and to God.