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August 12, 2011
"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."..."Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish."
If you like, you can read the whole story in Matthew 15.21-25.  A Canaanite woman rushes out of the crowd and implores Jesus to heal her daughter, who is assaulted by a demon. He refuses, on the grounds that she is not a Jew.  She calls him on his narrowness, and he changes his mind.
This story forms part of the gospel reading this Sunday in many churches.  The next day, August 15th, is the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin -- specifically, it marks her bodily assumption into heaven after her death.   I can't give you a Bible verse for that one, as it is not in the Bible.   Along with many other things about Mary, it came along later.  
The list of factoids about Jesus' mother is a long one.  Not all of them became important feasts of the church year, like this one, but each had its adherents --  born without the stain of original sin that besmirches the rest of us,  dying outside of our normal rhythm of life and the decaying return of life to the earth.  She vowed perpetual virginity at the age of three, some have believed, and lived in the temple at Jerusalem after that, until her engagement to Joseph -- you can find a depiction of her toddling up the temple steps in a pulpit frieze at Chartres.  Several places vie for the  honor of having been her final residence -- Ephesus, Jerusalem, the island of Patmos, the summits of both Mt. Sinai and Mt. Olivet -- and her travel schedule since her death has been rigorous, taking her from Fatima to Guadeloupe to Medjugorje to Lourdes and many, many other places.  Most of these personal appearances have been either to children or to poor people.  I guess the more established among us are too busy.

Jesus was busy, too, that day when a foreign woman came seeking a miracle.  His notoriety  was a strain on him: we know this because the gospel writers often speak of his attempts to evade the crowds of people who wanted something from him.  Sometimes one more word from one more admirer was more than he could endure.  Sometimes just " hello" was almost physically painful, he was so spent.  Truly God but also truly human, sometimes Jesus was not at his best, and this must have been one of those times.  He responded ungraciously: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

Our understanding hearts should go out to this harried God/man.  Our admiration, also, to the woman who wouldn't take "no" for an answer --  not without an argument, anyway.

I suppose Jesus learned how to be an adult from watching his parents.  If the truly human part of him is really true, he did not spring forth from his mother's womb a tiny adult who already knew everything.  He grew and learned, as the rest of us do.  It says so in scripture, in one of only a handful of sentences we have describing anything at all about his childhood:   "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with other people." --Luke 2.52.  

And so the Virgin Queen of Heaven must have shown the Son of God  how to relate to women.  The scant record we have of their interactions reveals some tension in their relationship, tension that will be not unfamiliar to any of us.   She loses him on a family outing and scolds him.  He feels she's being too bossy at a wedding reception.  She and other family members are afraid he's gone crazy, and waits outside one of his gatherings to beg him to come home.  He worries about her at the very hour of his own death, and entrusts her to his best friend, with whom she lives for the remainder of her life.  The moments together we behold are all sad or anxious -- not once in scripture do we see a young mother laughing at her baby's laughing.

So he wasn't perfect with the Canaanite woman who approached him.  Maybe her desperation reminded him of Mary, of their collisions, of how permanent her sorrow seemed, of how he could not seem to make her understand why he did what he did.  Who knows his thoughts?  The gospel writers aren't concerned with them -- the psychologizing of everything with which we are so familiar was centuries away.  The Jesus of the gospels teaches and acts, but we don't hear him think.

We  do read this about his Blessed Mother, though:  "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  --Luke 2.19
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