At first glance, today’s readings seem an odd coupling. What does God’s creation of humans and their subsequent joining as one flesh have to do with the Syro-Phoenician woman begging for her daughter’s healing? Allow me to offer my thoughts.
Love is a creative and generative force. Choosing to unleash it, God’s loving power flowed out into human form and created a "we" that did not previously exist. Another entity (God plus humanity) came into being. This new entity, this new "we", was larger and more significant than either "me" by itself. Yet God’s love was so deep and so complete that it desired more. God chose to make the "we" visible by becoming incarnate, truly becoming "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh". As one of us, God was willing to undergo anything for our sake, including the worst type of death imaginable in that day. God demonstrated in clearest terms how love acts when it is enfleshed.
Humans are created in the image of God and are called to follow, to be visible images of the creative and generative force of God’s love. This force draws us to each other, and often prompts the deepest commitment possible this side of death. When humans commit themselves to each other in love, whether in pairs or in community, they create a "we" that is greater and different than the "me’s" that came together. There is an entity there that did not exist before, and that would cease to exist were the love of either side to be withdrawn. This incarnation of "we", this "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh", never lets us rest and always calls us on to new depths. It challenges, stretches, and grows us in ways we cannot even imagine when we walk away from the ceremony.
In my experience of marriage, our love longed to be enfleshed in an even more visible way, to create yet another "we". Thus came the incarnation of our sons. When I look at the three wonderful young men who are literally bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh – – those I bore in my womb, nursed, taught, and raised – – I understand the Syro-Phoenician woman confronting Jesus, even arguing with him, risking everything for the sake of her sick child.
These sacrifices are what we have come to expect in healthy relationships – the committed spouse or the loving parent being willing to do anything, even to die, for their beloved. That makes sense, it connects the readings, and it feels comfortable because it challenges us to do only what we believe we are called to do. Any time the Gospel feels comfortable, though, we have to look farther. The Gospel and the law of God are always more demanding than that.
Jesus presents our comfortable position at first. He tries to limit his responsibility. He says he was sent only to "his" kind, and implied that God’s "we" stops there. But the Syro-Phoenician woman jolts him out of that idea. Through her, he learns anew that God’s salvation and love reach to all people, not just the ones with whom we choose to be associated or those who are like us. Every human being is chosen. Every human being is precious. And every human being is connected to every other human being through the "we" that God created in the beginning.
I may be willing to die for my son. What am I prepared to sacrifice for my neighbor? How willing am I to risk my own financial security for those writhing in poverty? What am I able to give away or live without so that people in another country may have the basic resources of life? How high are the walls I build around what is "mine" and what I "deserve" to have and who is enough "like me" to merit my attention? Perhaps we, like Jesus, need to be relieved of our assumptions concerning to whom we are connected. We are truly the Body of Christ, the "we" of God, and when one part suffers, we all suffer.
It seems that I need to re-examine some things about the way I live, how I spend, what I say, and to whom I pay attention. I need to honor the "we" that connects all of us together in, through, and with God. And in whatever ways I am able, I need to reach out in love, care, and yes, sacrifice. With all people, not just those of my choosing, I need to act the way love acts when it is enfleshed.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.