In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who asks him to heal her daughter, who is being tormented by a demon. Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman persists, “Lord, help me.” He refuses again, saying “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Still she persists, arguing that “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Finally, Jesus is persuaded to do as she wishes.
This encounter reminds us that even Jesus needed to grow into an understanding of his mission. Many people seem to think Jesus came out of the womb with a full understanding of his destiny. This ignores that fact that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine and that he grew in knowledge and understanding.
When Jesus first sent out his disciples, he tells them (in Matthew 10), “Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” It is clear that in the early part of his public ministry, Jesus viewed himself to be the savior of the Israelites – and thus his disciples were charged with gathering the lost sheep of the House of Israel. However, by the end, he is saying something very different. In each of the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus commissions the disciples before his ascension. In Matthew, Jesus says, “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, he tells them to go into the “whole world.” And in Luke he tells them it is written in the law of Moses that “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations.”
When we are so sure that we have it right, it is good to remember that even Jesus didn’t have it right from the beginning. Even Jesus had to continue to discern and to pray and to grow in his understanding of his mission.