I’ve often struggled to make sense of Mark’s account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman who falls at his feet asking for Him to cure her daughter (Mark 7: 24-30). And Jesus’s response? “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The quick witted and perhaps desperate Greek mother flips it back on Jesus “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” What a comeback! Jesus applauds her faith and wisdom, telling her that her daughter is healed.
It’s quite likely that Jesus used this opportunity as a teachable moment for the disciples and most teachers have experienced that moment when the student becomes the teacher! The unnamed Canaanite woman was a game changer for the disciples who were slowly learning that Jesus’s mission would extend beyond the chosen people.
How often in the discourse on Catholic education we’ve heard statistics quoted about the falling attendance rate of families at Mass, the rising number of non-Catholic enrollments, and the resulting mission drift. We are quick to judge the motivation of such families for sending their children to our schools. They seek good values, strong pastoral care and quality teachers.
What if these are the modern Gentiles, seeking the love and acceptance of a caring, healing community? How far are they from the Canaanite mother who petitioned Jesus on behalf of her daughter, happy to feed on the scraps that fall from our table? What do these crumbs look like? A reflection in the newsletter, a parent evening once a year, an advertisement to a Parish retreat. Why aren’t we personally inviting them to gather around the table?
A harsher reading of this passage may suggest that we shouldn’t be sharing such holy things with the unchurched, the outsiders, the unknown. And isn’t true that many of our families, staff and students have bought that lie? “Oh, I’m not very religious, that’s not for me …” or “We should let the churchy ones take care of that: I’m not worthy.” How did they develop these attitudes about their spiritual worthiness? Maybe you are living off the crumbs. Why settle for anything less than the fullness that Christ offers?
In a rush to put out the Friday morning Mass sign, I almost took out two of our teaching staff as they walked in through the front doors. I apologised and quickly chimed, “Hey, you should come to Mass,” pointing to the sign that had almost become a battering ram. I thought nothing more of it as I trotted off to join our regular crew of the faithful. Later that day I received an email from one of my earlier victims explaining that she did indeed come over to the Mass (a few minutes late) but was unable to come inside because of her walking aid. She didn’t want to make a fuss and made her way back to the other side of the College.
This story reminded me of the efforts shown by the friends of the crippled man lowered through the roof in front of Jesus. I’m sure they didn’t say, “we’re off to see Jesus, good luck with getting through the crowd.” They made a significant effort and potentially sacrificed their own opportunity to encounter the Lord. With his dignity restored, the healed man was told to pick up his mat and walk. He needed the support of his friends to meet Christ, to be taken over the threshold, but from there the rest was up to him.
Fr Mike Schmitz suggests that we should stop telling people that they are welcome to Mass and start to personally invite them. We all know the difference of being known, rather than anonymously invited. Who would miss you if the invitation was impersonal?
I think it’s important that we start making ourselves present and known in places like the Canaanite woman’s house. Where are these places for you? The staffroom, the circle of parents in the carpark, online forums, the strangers at the bus stop, the group of students that you’d rather avoid?
Dear Lord, we ask you to send us your Holy Spirit to inspire, strengthen and challenge us to move beyond the comfortable and familiar. May we make Jesus known through our actions, our relationships and our openness to encountering the other in our lives.
Copyright 2019 Nathan Ahearne