Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Today’s readings present an interesting treatise on the order of relationships in God’s creation. It is also fascinating, and perhaps a little confusing as well, whenever we have a Gospel in which Jesus does not seem to be acting the way we expect Jesus to act. Indeed, there may be many today who would be baffled to hear this story of Jesus, as he calls a foreigner a dog and calls it unjust to help her before his own people while she lays bowed down at his feet, in need of help. Others in our society may think nothing of giving the bread of the children to dogs, since they believe dogs to be as sentient and important as human children, or at the least have substituted their animals in the place of human children. Can’t you just see the memes circulating if Jesus had walked among us today? How outrageous! How unChristlike?
But to take a step back from the surface level confusion, let’s examine the ways we accept order in our relationships in other aspects. As children, we would certainly understand how incredibly unjust it would be if our parents treated our friends with warmth and kindness and generosity and then were cold, unfeeling, and withholding toward us. We understand inherently that it is unjust to abuse our families, the ones closest to us, and yet show kindness to perfect strangers. And if a building were on fire with a child and a pet inside, we would be outraged if we learned that the pet was rescued instead of the child. We understand inherently that there is an order to our relationships.
What’s more important, however, is to remember how this order came about. Our first reading from Genesis should show us how all of creation is a beautiful gift from God. God created all the animals and presented them to Man for humankind to name and to care for. And yet, when God gave Woman to Man, this is the birth of an entirely different sort of relationship. Their companionship and love, as described in the psalm, is supposed to aid each other in fearing the Lord, following his ways, and as a result sharing that love with children and then the community at large. If we expect our macrocosms to work in proper order, like society or the environment, we first have to attend to our microcosms, our family units. Then, and only then, with our priorities straightened out, will we understand where justice and mercy meet.
Justice and mercy meet when the Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus to ask for help for her daughter. Jesus lets her know that it is not just for him to give her priority over the people he was sent to who also need him. She does not contradict him. She does not rail against him. She does not cry injustice. She does not circulate cruel and inflammatory memes on Facebook. She accepts his statement, but simply asks for an extension of mercy she does not deserve. In this, she has put her faith entirely in God and his mercy because she accepts his justice established for humanity. And because of this faith in his mercy, Jesus is generous and heals her daughter. And for those who will be at Mass today, he fulfills the verse that precedes the Gospel: “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” May we all welcome God’s word with meekness and so through it find salvation.
Prayer: O Lord, help me know your ways. Give me the grace to love your creation according to your will. Help me to love those whom you have entrusted to my care so that our care and love can overflow to everyone we meet. Give me the grace to understand your justice and your order so that through it I may come to a greater understanding of your mercy. Amen.