Today we move on to the fifteenth chapter of Book One of The Imitation of Christ given the heading, “Of Works Done Out of Charity” (1,15). When we consider who is the exemplar of “true and perfect charity,” as well as all virtues, of course we, like Kempis in his book, look to Jesus.
As we continue to work through Mark (7:24-30), we encounter the unusual interaction of the Lord with a Syrophoenician (Greek) woman. His reputation as an exorcist precedes Him, and she wants relief for her possessed daughter. Her plea is met with what come across as harsh and degrading words from Jesus. Now, a basic hermeneutical principle for the faithful reader of the inspired Word of God is that if, in our reading, we come to the conclusion that Jesus has done something wrong, then Jesus doesn’t have the problem, we do. Let me appeal to a fine commentary to show that what Jesus is illustrating is the plan for the spread of the Gospel as well as an opportunity for His interlocutor to demonstrate humility and perseverance:
dogs: often a derogatory term in the Bible, … Jesus uses it to illustrate the progress of the gospel; just as children are fed before pets, so the gospel is offered to Israel before the Gentiles. The woman’s acceptance of this epithet reveals her humility, and her unwillingness to be turned away reveals her perseverance.
— Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. The Gospel of Mark (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible) (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001), 30.
Jesus desires “that God be glorified in all things,” particularly how His plan of salvation is to be made known to all persons. I propose that Jesus, knowing the woman’s heart, realized she would be up to the challenge He provides her with this strongly worded response, thus allowing her to become an example for all time, enshrined in Scripture, of what it means to be truly humble and persevering.
Her attitude is to be ours: asking meekly and repeatedly (see Lk 11:5-8ff) for undeserved charity from the Lord. We then reflect this charity shown to us by giving to others unreservedly, not that we should get some personal gain (that will come in the next world if not this one), but, as was Jesus’ attitude, “that God be glorified in all things.”
The Woman of Canaan (1673-1678) by Michael Angelo Immenraet