I’m not particularly keen to disclose this: If you poke around my iPod music library long enough, you’ll find not one, not two but three ‘Tom Jones’ tracks.
Yes, THAT Tom Jones.
Now in my defense, I hasten to add that all three cuts are from his ‘Praise & Blame’ CD — covers of classic gospel tunes, not the Vegas lounge ballads that made him famous.
One of those Tom Jones tunes – ‘Did Trouble Me’ – came to mind today when I heard the gospel passage at our morning liturgy. (BTW, it’s not a half-bad rendition, if you’d care to listen.)
I guess you could say the Lord did trouble me today, too…in a story that we don’t hear proclaimed at Mass all that often.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged [Jesus] to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
Troubling, of course…because it seems completely out of character for Jesus to be so uncharitable toward a person in need.
So yeah, I did a double-take: Did Jesus really imply that the little girl – a foreigner – was no better than a dog?
He quickly relents, of course, in large part because of the woman’s wit and persistence:
She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”
I was glad things turned out well for the woman and her daughter, of course…glad, too, to be able to count myself among the ‘children’ who had a proper claim to a seat at the table.
Which is about when I was troubled again.
It occurred to me, there’s not a lot of Jewish blood in my heritage (that I know of, anyway). And my German ancestors would likely have been no more welcome in the district of Tyre than that Syrophoenician woman was. We’d have been considered dogs, too.
This is a troubling reality to confront … especially when I am inclined to set limits on the extent of God’s mercy. Who’s worthy to enter in? As a rule, I’m only too happy to sit in judgment of others on that count.
The truth is, we all come out looking a bit like dogmeat, don’t we?
None of us actually merits salvation.
So perhaps that’s what Jesus was hoping to teach us when he delayed his grace for the woman and her daughter in this instance.
Come to think of it, that’s not such a troubling thought after all.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.