domenica 20 agosto 2017

«Et catelli edunt de micis»

Judaism has always been and still is an ethnic religion, that is, the religion of a specific people. However, little by little the idea began to spread that all peoples were called to salvation through Israel. We have an example of this new mindset in the first reading. It is a selection from the third part of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Scholars say that the oracles collected here date back to the sixth century before Christ, that is, after the return of the Jews from exile. “I will bring [foreigners] to my holy mountain … my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

And yet this idea of universal salvation never became popular among the Jews. Still in Jesus’ time, most of people were convinced that salvation was only for them, and wanted to keep their distance from pagans. Jesus himself was not immune to this mentality. As we can see in today’s gospel, he believed that he had been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Even when he commissioned the twelve apostles, he said to them: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6).

Unlike Jesus is usually presented—kind, sweet, friendly, amiable, pleasant, welcoming toward everybody—sometimes he was able to be rude, as in our case. He first ignored the Canaanite woman: he “did not say a word in answer to her.” Then he became abusive: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” How is it possible? This is not the Jesus we are familiar with. Admittedly, this was the common way the Jews acted with foreigners; and Jesus was a Jew, like others, sharing in their mindset and behavior. For them, pagans were “dogs,” animals considered impure, like pigs. One day, Jesus gave his disciples this instruction: “Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before swine” (Mt 7:6).

Moreover, we have to say that God reveals his plans gradually. There is no doubt that God “desires all men to be saved” (1Tim 2:4): this is his “mystery hidden from ages and from generations past” (Col 1:26). This mystery was manifested little by little through the old testament first, and then through the new testament. This plan was carried out only with the apostles, after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. The apostles themselves had difficulty in accepting this extension of salvation to all peoples. It took the intervention of the Holy Spirit to change the apostles’ mind. The Fathers of the Church called this pedagogy of God “condescension,” that is, adaptation to our weak human nature.

But we see even in the gospel the first signals of a new mentality. In a sense, Jesus was forced to change his attitude towards pagans by this wonderful woman. Jesus had his principles; but he was able to adapt himself to suit different situations. Jesus seemed so firm in his refusal, but he did not know how to resist the great faith of the Canaanite woman. Why was her faith so great? First, she addressed Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David.” She was certainly a pagan, but she called Jesus with the same titles we use. Then she did Jesus homage, literally, knelt, prostrated herself before him as a mark of adoration. Finally, the woman showed her true faith when she did not contradict Jesus, who had said: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Not only didn’t she take offence at those words, but she accepted that designation. She just reminded Jesus that even the dogs eat the scraps (et catelli edunt de micis) falling from the table of their masters. She did not claim rights; she did not demand a special intervention of Jesus; she was just content with the scraps that usually are not refused even to the dogs. In front of this humble faith, Jesus cannot say no.

Salvation is for all; but it is not low-cost. It is not true that everybody will be saved. There is a condition—faith. Only those who have a faith like that of the Canaanite woman can hope for salvation.