Readings (Year A):
Reflection: Expanding the tent
In today’s gospel, a Canaanite woman challenges Jesus after his disciples attempt to send her away when she pleads for help for her daughter. Those of us who have come to know a Jesus who not only accepts but loves saints and sinners, Jews and gentiles, are surprised when we hear him say that he was sent to lend help “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Though the Canaanite woman knows she’s not part of this group, she insists and says to Jesus: “Lord, help me.”
He tells her: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
But she continues to engage him: “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Once again, what strikes us about this Jesus, in his initial response to the woman, is the way that he almost pushes her aside.
But in the way that an icon invites us to change our first impressions through prayer and contemplation, this story invites us to see the different layers of Jesus. In this instance, it invites us to look at the human Jesus, the one who is like us, when we have, perhaps, decided to turn someone away, because (like the Canaanite woman), we see in that person someone who is not like us.
In the time of Jesus, the Canaanite woman, like so many others, was considered an outsider. So, it wasn’t surprising that the disciples wanted her gone. But Jesus steps in, listens to her, and, as a result, his vision of her changes. Then he does exactly what he has been doing throughout his life: he helps her.
“O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus says. “Let it be done for you as you wish.”
In our time, Pope Francis asks that we do the same. In preparing Catholics around the world for the upcoming synod, he refers to this way of including others as “expanding the tent.”
There are many in our church who, like the Canaanite woman, have fought to be heard. In some instances, some have been sent away by those who mirror the attitudes of the disciples who wanted to dismiss the woman. Jesus, however, calls us to mirror his actions, to listen, to change the way we look at others, and to become inclusive of them.
In the recent gathering of the world’s Catholic youth in Portugal, Pope Francis said the church is like a place without doors, designed that way so that everyone can come in. There is room in the church for everyone, for all. “Para todos, todos, todos,” he said, using the word in Spanish “for all,” including those of us “who make mistakes, who fall or struggle.”
Just as Jesus showed his disciples that the way to build the kingdom of God is to be inclusive, we are called to be inclusive of the outsiders in our lives, to change the way we look at those with different political views, who are not the same gender or age, who come from another country, or who differ from us in other ways.
We are called to include the Canaanite woman. Or as the pope said, we are called to include “todos, todos, todos.”