She pushed through the crowd.
When I was about six years old my parents moved into their first house. This was their first house but their third home. Up until now they had been renting apartments but as our family was about to grow, they decided moving to a house was a better fit for them, and us. At that time, they had three boys, and my mother was expecting my twin sisters, Satan and Lucifer. Three lambs and two goats. But the children are not the point of this story my mother is, and most of the mothers who lived in this housing development. The development of housing in Ireland, Britain, and most of Europe for that matter, is very different to what we have here in the States. We certainly have private housing development but for the most part the government contracts with construction companies to build and then rents, or rents to own, properties to families. So, this new housing development was brand new, and, in fact, houses were still being built as we moved into our new home. Three bedrooms for my parents, three boys and two girls. It always seemed too small; however, the Biltmore Estate would have seemed too small if you were living with my two sisters.
Typical, government planning for this new housing development of about 2000 houses had no provision for stores. In a time when most people didn’t have cars a local store wasn’t a convenience, it was a necessity. After a number of petitions to local, city, and national government agencies and government minister, with no positive results, the mothers of the neighborhood took matters into their own hands and decided on “radical” action. So, one of my earliest memories is of my brothers and myself, six, five and three years old, sitting in the middle of a busy Dublin road, with my heavily pregnant mother and hundreds of mothers, and their children, blocking traffic while the police looked on. Traffic was held up for some time, the media splashed the event all over TV, radio, and newspapers. My Dad was at work, maybe stuck in a truck in the traffic backlog. There were a number of such events until, eventually, these ladies got not only what they wanted but what they, their children, their families, needed – grocery stores. Not only were local shops built, the government set aside land for a new shopping center which you can find online if you want to check the truth of my story: Northside Shopping Center: https://northsideshoppingcentre.ie/about/
In the Gospel story today the love of a mother for her sick child, a possessed daughter, drives her to first seek Jesus out and then encourages her to persist in her request of Him. To the Jews, including the Apostles, this woman was a pagan, idolatrous, unworthy, and yet, she calls Jesus, “Lord,” a recognition of His Divine Authority, she kneels before Him, she believes in His power to heal. Her persistence on behalf of her daughter is rewarded by the Lord. In fact, He points out to those around Him how deep is her faith.
The way Jesus speaks to this lady seems scandalous to us as we see Jesus as “meek and mild, gentle and kind.” It seems that He calls her a “dog.” But that isn’t really true? He says “it is not right to give the food of the children to the dogs.” But is she a dog, or is she treated by others as a dog? Certainly, it seems that she is treated as a dog by some, but not by Jesus. Jesus feeds her, by means of delivering her daughter from the Demon that possesses her. So, Jesus feeds the woman which indicates that she is a child of God, a daughter. She has already shown that she is a child of God, a believer, a woman of faith, by her actions. She calls Jesus “Lord,” and she “kneels” before Him, she believes He has the power to deliver her daughter – she has faith in Him. Jesus extends His grace to her by healing her daughter. This is a sign of His goodness and a consequence of her faith and persistence.
I wonder how often we treat people as the crowd and the apostles do in this small passage. How often do we dismiss and diminish them, identifying them as not belonging to us, as something unclean, different, not belonging. They are not with us so they must be against us. Why should we give them anything? They don’t deserve it, they don’t belong, they don’t conform, they don’t contribute. We maybe scandalized by the words of Jesus but are we scandalized by our own actual treatment of others?
To get back to my mother and the women of my home neighborhood for a moment. Their courage, drive, determination, and persistence in seeking justice in providing for the needs of their children made all the difference in so many lives and not just for them but for generations that followed them in that neighborhood. These women were willing to challenge the authorities, they were courageous enough to shout from the rooftops to make their voices heard, they challenged the mighty and brought them down to the streets where they lived, they were willing to discomfort the comfortable, to question the elite, and to do all this for the smallest and most vulnerable while being ordinary people like us. Their courageous persistence paid off.
Today the most vulnerable in our communities, expectant mothers and their children, our children in school and society, our families, are threatened. If we want to change this, women, like this courageous woman of faith in the Gospel today, will need to lead the way. Push through the crowd who hog the means of power, the channels of communication, the instruments of media and make your voice, your presence, your vision, heard and count. Make it count for those who need it most born and unborn.