We have all heard those words, used to call out the hypocrisy of someone—they’re saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. Well . . . let’s look at Jesus’ words—what he said—from last week’s Gospel:
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Now, let’s look at what Jesus says and does in this week’s Gospel:
[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.”
The parallel passage in Matthew is even clearer:
[A] Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. . . . It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”! Did Jesus just call this woman, this Gentile, Syrophoenician, Canaanite woman a dog?! Did he just tell her that she’s not worthy of the bread—that ‘Bread of Life’ we heard so much about in previous Sundays—meant for the chosen ones of Israel. Is this the same Jesus who just last week warned us that it is “the things that come out [of us] that defile”?
Now, this is a Jesus I can relate to! I’m very good at giving advice but not so good at following it. I find it very easy to get angry and ignore those who are different than me, even put them down with slurs and a clever remark to justify my anger. But, that is the point, isn’t it, of having a God who cares enough to find out what it’s like to be human, to live in our skin and grow up in our world of prejudices and biting words? A God who says the right thing one day and does quite the opposite another?
Of course, we all know how the story ends. Jesus relents, telling her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish,” and heals her daughter. He doesn’t try to convert her. He doesn’t beat himself up about not getting it right the first time. He goes on and does the right thing. This is a Jesus that I have a harder time relating to, but . . . that other Jesus lets me know that this Jesus understands me. He gets me. And, he shows me how to move on from “do as I say, not as I do” to an integrity of words and actions.