TO refer to someone as a “dog” during the time of Jesus was the most abominable thing that one could do to a person. This was true in the life of the Jews during the times of Jesus who considered themselves as the “chosen people”, who felt the pride, the privilege, and the haughtiness of being the “race” that only deserved salvation from the coming Messiah. To be called a “dog” meant that you were not a “member” of their club. You were an outsider, an alien that did not have any rights to the messianic redemption. Even Jesus knew this thinking. This was why he told the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But this bold and stubborn Canaanite woman did not mind being called a “dog”; she’d take any insult and belittlement as long as Jesus would heal her daughter. “Please Lord,” she told Jesus, “for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall form the table of their masters.”
Jesus saw the stubbornness and persistence of her faith. He also realized that despite her befallen identity, she acknowledged Jesus’ divinity right at the beginning of their encounter when she shouted, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” she shouted.
Jesus recognized this faith and so he acclaimed the woman by saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Would it be that during these modern times of racial upheavals, we can be like Jesus who affirm one another’s strength, recognize each other’s needs, and totally reject any form of hatred against another human race? Would it be that we “stubbornly” keep the legacy of the fathers of our nation who worked hard to fight against segregation and exclusion in the society? Can we stop the resurgences of racial arrogance, especially those that come from current political leaders?
The Gospel tells us that Jesus stepped in the region of Tyre and Sidon, the inhabitance of those who they called “dogs.” By coming into their territories he implied to the people there that he wanted to be part of their lives, that they too can be part of the “house of Israel.” Like him, we too can step into the lives of other people, especially those who feel alienated and invite them to become healthy and contributing members of our nation.
In the Second Reading (Rom 11:13-15, 29-32), Paul, also expressed this desire to include everyone in the house of God. “Brothers,” he said, “In as much as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” Like Jesus, Paul acknowledged and affirmed the faith of the Gentiles in Jesus Christ.
Our First Reading (Is 56:1,6-7) beautifully conveys this welcoming and inclusive sentiment: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants—all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
We cannot go back to the savageness of our past—we’ve learned a lot from them. As much as we take pride of our respective races, culture, and religious affiliation, we must fight against all forms hatred, exclusiveness, arrogance, and superiority complex. n
* * *
From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.