Jesus was a person of his time molded by the society in which he was raised. He believed in God’s promise to Abraham; I will be your God and you will be my people. The Jewish people, his people, were special to God above all others. As a Jew Jesus was to avoid any dealings with non-Jews lest he be tempted to be influenced by their way of thinking and living. Jesus saw nothing strange about the way women were treated in the home or in the community. The restrictions on the social life of women were just normal and right. As he grew older he knew he had to learn a trade so as not to be a burden on the community and be able to support a wife and family. To Jesus’ way of thinking everything about how life was lived and how people treated one another was perfectly normal.
When he entered adulthood at the age of twelve and showed a bit of independence by staying in Jerusalem after the feast to listen to the teachers in the temple. We are told that after being scolded by Mary, Jesus went back to the boring life of Nazareth but that he grew in wisdom and grace before God and man.
Threw his public ministry we can see occasions of that growth. When he sent the first disciples out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand he told them not to go near to the Samaritans because he was raised in a society that held a great hostility to the Samaritans whom they saw as heretics and unfaithful to the Law. Later Jesus moved beyond that narrow minded opinion of Samaritans and we have his great conversation with the Samaritan women at the well and his willingness to stay several days with the Samaritan people teaching them of the kingdom. He came to admire the integrity of these people and often used Samaritans as example of how people should live out their religious convictions.
Today’s gospel is a perfect example of how Jesus could grow beyond the mentality in which he was raised. He saw himself as sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and that it would be right to waste him time with non-Jews, especially this noisy woman. It wouldn’t be fair to take the children’s, the Jews, food and throw it to dogs –people not deserving of God’s love and mercy. But the mother’s response, ‘even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’ challenged Jesus’ opinion of foreigners. He admired her spunk, her challenge to his opinion of her kind and cured her daughter instantly. Jesus showed us his ability and his willingness to change.
In one way or another we are all set in our ways. We don’t particularly like it when we have to change. We’ve all been conditioned by the likes and dislikes of our upbringing. We hold back from accepting and respecting the faith and cultures of others. We just have to look at the conflicts plaguing the world today, conflicting arising from a need to impose on others the way we believe and live, conflicts arising from people’s unwillingness to share the good of the earth with others.
In our own lives we are challenged to question our own willingness to accept other people as they are, what they believe, how they live out their relationships or express their faith and culture. This is what we ask of others, should we not do the same for them? May all of us continue to grow in a willingness to accept other people as they are.