God has established a certain order not only in creation, but also in salvation. He chose and prepared individuals by forming them into a people. This is a very interesting dynamic to consider, because salvation is offered both collectively and individually. A person is saved because they are part of a chosen people and because they themselves want to be saved. We cannot say that one is ultimately more important than the other, but at different moments in our lives the personal and communal dimensions of our faith can play a more prominent role.
The story about the Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter gives us an insight into how God’s salvation is both personal and communal. First, this woman is ignored by Jesus because she is not part of the chosen people. In other words, it does matter what group you belong to – God does care if you are part of His chosen people. Who you identify with, the group you belong to, is important for salvation. At the same time, the group I belong to does not replace my own mind and heart. God keeps His people safe by responding to their individual and personal responses to his grace and mercy. No one is saved just because they associated with the right people – but associating with the right people still plays a crucial part in one’s salvation.
Consider the response of Jesus. At the beginning it seems that He will do nothing for her because she is a Gentile. Then, His disciples are drawn into pity for her – even if Jesus is able to ignore her pleas, they cannot, so they ask Jesus to do something for her. They have – perhaps unconsciously – associated with her. Jesus maintains the separation: there are children and then there are dogs. Dogs are not worthy to receive the same attention and care as children. This woman, because of the group she belongs to, is a dog. Unworthy of the attention and care of the Father. Interestingly, the woman does not try to change her affiliation. She does not say, “Lord, make me one of your children – I want to become a child and no longer associate or be associated with the dogs.” Instead she says, “Lord, even the dogs find scraps that children carelessly drop to the floor.” By humbly keeping her association with the dogs, she actually opens a way of salvation for the Gentiles – her fellow dogs. The Jews have carelessly dropped the Savior they were given – the dogs would gladly eat and be saved.
When Jeremiah says, “And I will gather them together from the extremities of the land in the feast day,” he signifies the day of the Passover and of Pentecost, which is properly a “feast day.” However, every day is the Lord’s. Every hour, every time, is apt for baptism. If there is a difference in the solemnity, there is no distinction in the grace.1
EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN:
After our Lord departed from the Jews, he came into the regions of Tyre and Sidon. He left the Jews behind and came to the Gentiles. Those whom he had left behind remained in ruin; those to whom he came obtained salvation in their alienation. And a woman came out of that territory and cried, saying to him, “Have pity on me, O Lord, Son of David!” O great mystery! The Lord came out from the Jews, and the woman came out from her Gentile territory. He left the Jews behind, and the woman left behind idolatry and an impious lifestyle. What they had lost, she found. The one whom they had denied in the law, she professed through her faith. This woman is the mother of the Gentiles, and she knew Christ through faith. Thus on behalf of her daughter (the Gentile people) she entreated the Lord. The daughter had been led astray by idolatry and sin and was severely possessed by a demon.2
EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN:
Then, in face of the Jews who were rejecting him, this Gentile woman asked him to heal her daughter. But the Lord turned a deaf ear to her. She fell down at his feet and adored him, saying, “Lord, help me.” The Lord then said to her, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What have the Jews to say to this? Plainly he implied that they were children and called the Gentiles “dogs.” The woman agreed, saying to the Savior, “Yes, Lord.” That is to say, I know, Lord, that the Gentile people are dogs in worshiping idols and barking at God. “Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In other words, you came to the Jews and manifested yourself to them, and they didn’t want you to make exceptions. What they rejected, give to us who are asking for it. Knowing the importunate faith of this woman, our Lord said, “O woman, your faith is great! Let it be done for you as you desire.” Faith accepts what work does not merit, and through faith the Gentiles were made children out of dogs. As the Lord spoke through the prophet: “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’ it shall be said to them, ‘Sons of the living God.’ ” On the other hand, the unreceptive Jews were made loathsome dogs out of children, as the Lord himself said in his Passion through the prophet: “Many dogs surround me; a company of evildoers encircle me.”3
Do you see how this woman, too, contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For note that Christ did not say, “Let your little daughter be made whole,” but “Great is your faith, be it done for you as you desire.” These words were not uttered at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith, and for our learning.
He left the certain test and demonstration, however, to the issue of events. Her daughter accordingly was immediately healed.4
- ON BAPTISM 19. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 207). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 58. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 27). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 58. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 29–30). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 52.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 30). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.