In those days, we went up the country of Tyre (Tyrus). We crossed the border of Israel in the north, near the Lake of Merom, and went through the marine lands that were full of the forests of the Syrophoenicians.
Peter: This is my first time to set foot on foreign land!
John: You’re not the only one, stone thrower. It’s the first time for everyone… How about you, Jesus. Have you ever been abroad?
Jesus: No, never. We from inland travel very little.
John: Well, since all of us are travelling for the first time, then we must all be careful. They say half of the people here are thieves and the other half are usurers. So, we’ve got to be alert!
Jesus: What I’ve heard, John, is that in business, there’s no one who can beat these Canaanites.
Philip: Yeah, that’s true. When it comes to those things, I’m in the know. If you want good textiles, get them from here. If you want quality glass, you’ll find it here.
Peter: And if you want first class cheaters, they also come from here.
Philip: What these people sell you with one hand, they also get it back with the other… All our townmates who have been in this place know it….
Jesus: We must be coming close to Tyre… Isn’t that what we can see from afar?
Tyre, one of the principal and most important ports of the country of Canaanites, was a white city built over rocks, by the sea. Here lived Salathiel, an Israelite friend of old Zebedee, who had invited us to go there…
Jesus: Where could the house of Salathiel be?
John: The Israelites’ barrio is here, on the outskirts. We shouldn’t be far from it…
Jesus: Let’s ask someone….
Peter: Better if we can find it by ourselves.
Jesus: Why, Peter?
Peter: Because I don’t trust these foreigners. To each his own. We go our own way and they go their own.
A minute later, the accent of people conversing in the streets told us that we were in the barrio of our Israelite countrymen. We asked an old man with a long gray beard for Salathiel’s house, and he himself, limping and supported by a thick cedar cane, brought us to his house…
Salathiel: Welcome, countrymen! I was expecting you tomorrow, but old Joachim informed me of your arrival, ha, ha, ha!…. This is really a nice surprise!
Peter: We left one day earlier. Things are not so good in Galilee.
Salathiel: What? Its Herod again and his usual thing, isn’t it? Everyone here knows what’s going on there… But… well, please sit down. The wine will be brought any minute now, and that’s what matters… Methelia, Methelia!… Bring in two jugs of wine, right away!… Oh, please pardon our wine…. Our wine here is no good…. It’s dirty water tinged with purple!… And well, Jesus, Peter, John… I have long wanted to meet you… The news that you are agitating the whole of Galilee has reached us here. I want you to speak with my countrymen later. Even in this country, a lot of things ought to change, yes sir!
Philip: This place is quite big, isn’t it? When we got here and crossed through the square, we couldn’t even get through.
Salathiel: You came on a market day. Those foreigners are the first hawkers in the world!… Today they’re all out in the streets, while we stay here at home… he, he, he! Yeah, we’re together and not bothered!
Jesus: About how many Israelites live here, Salathiel?
Salathiel: Well, that’s not difficult to know. Everyone lives in this barrio. I think we’re about three hundred, excluding the women and children. We manage very well. These foreigners need us. Work is never scarce. The Canaanites may be astute businessmen, but without us, they would do very little, he, he, he! Wherever one of us is, business prospers and even stones are converted into silver, yes sir!
Salathiel explained to us how life was for our compatriots in that foreign land. He had lived there for many years. He was a sort of patriarch for his countrymen.
Salathiel: It’s difficult to live among pagans, young men. These foreign dogs may be very knowledgeable about purple, but that’s all they know. They’re ignorant of other things. They have a god in every barrio, just imagine… Ah, only when you live far from your country do you realize to thank the Lord for having been born in a town like ours. God did the right thing in choosing our country as his own! Well, damn, the tongue also deserves a rest…. Aren’t you hungry?
Peter: Yeah, Salathiel. The last time we got a glimpse of bread was when we passed through the border…
Salathiel: Well, in that case, let’s all go and eat! In a short while, a group of our countrymen will be here to tell you what they’re doing here in Galilee… Hey, Methelia, Methelia!
Salathiel: Have the food ready. And hurry up, because we’re starved!
Methelia: Right away, sir….
Salathiel: Ah, everytime I think that one of these Canaanites sleeps under my roof, it makes me sick to my stomach… he, he, he, but at least I’m consoled by the fact that she is under my orders….
Jesus: Has she been with you for a long time, Salathiel?
Salathiel: The husband abandoned her when they were newly married and left her with a daughter about… four… five years old. So I bought her as a maid. That was a good deal, you know. And she was cheap…. Ah, a bitch like that is not worth the dust from the sandals of one of our women…. Have you noticed how ugly they are…? No amount of ornaments can hide it…!
Soon, Methelia returned with a big pot of lentils and a tray of eggplants and put them on the table. In her young face the color of olives, like the rest of the Syrophoenician men and women, could be seen those wrinkles, telltale signs of her tears and suffering….
Salathiel: Okay, let’s pray to God that He may bless the food! “We praise you and bless you, God of Israel, who has placed our country above all nations! Remember, Lord, all of us who live outside the country, in the midst of pagans who know not your love and the foreigners who have no respect for your laws. Grant that we may again partake of the bread in our own land!.”
All: Amen, amen!
Salathiel: Come and get it, fellows. Eat all you can and nothing should remain on the tray!
When we were almost through eating….
Salathiel: With you gathered at my table, I feel near my beloved Lake of Galilee!… But I’m not losing hope, no sir: one day I’ll shake the dust off of my sandals right in the noses of these pagans and I’ll return to my land!…. “Larara… Galilee, my beloved land…”
All: Fine, fine!
Salathiel: Hell, how nostalgic…!
Methelia: Sir, you wish nothing?
Philip: How’s that…?
Methelia: You wish nothing…?
Philip: Hey, Salathiel, what the hell is this woman asking me? I don’t understand a thing!
Salathiel: What is it, Methelia?
Methelia: You wish nothing, sir?
Salathiel: We want you to go and leave us in peace. Go to the kitchen, where you belong.
Methelia: And the wine, sir… I put here?
Salathiel: Ha, ha,… yes, “put it there” …ha, ha… Did you hear? She doesn’t even know how to speak! Ha, ha… You’ll see… You’ll see… Hey, Methelia, tell my friend what you put in the soup for its nice taste….
Methelia: Sir, I put parle…
Salathiel: Parle! Parle!… It’s been five years and you haven’t learned the word “parsley!… Ha, ha, ha! C’mon, why don’t you tell them the name of the flowers I asked you to pick from the garden…
Methelia: Sir, they are lilies and dissies…
Salathiel: Ha, ha! Oh, I’ll die laughing….! I taught the word, but nothing!…. Ha, ha, ha!…. Heck…. Look, Methelia, do you see that bearded man in front of you? He’s a famous doctor, a healer… Ask him to do something for your “daufter” …Ha, ha, ha..! C’mon, tell him, tell him…
Methelia, the servant from Canaan, looked at Jesus with a ray of hope in her deep, dark eyes…
Salathiel: This poor creature does nothing but weep for her daughter… for her “daufter,” as she says… Ha, ha, ha…! She cries the whole day…. Your daughter was born sick and not even the doctors nor your tears can cure her. Put this into your head and try to understand, Methelia!
Methelia: Are you a doctor, strrangerr?
Salathiel: Ha, ha, ha…! Yes, he is a heallerr!… It gives a good laugh when I hear these Canaanites speak!
Methelia: Strrangerr, help my daufter!
Salathiel: Here we go again….! C’mon, Methelia, beat it, I’ll call for you if we need something…
Methelia: Help her, strrangerr….!
Salathiel: What a big bore you are! Now, leave. Mind the kitchen fire while we enjoy our lentils here!
But Methelia did not leave. Rubbing her hands on the dirty apron, and teary-eyed, she even went closer to Jesus…
Methelia: My sick daufter, help my daufter…! Curre her, you are a great prophet!
Salathiel: What do you know about this man?… Of course, eavesdropping behind the door. As always! Listening to gossip and poking your nose in everything is all that you know!
Jesus: Wait a minute, Salathiel, let her….
Salathiel: No, Jesus, I’ve lost all my patience… Pff, this is what I get for being too familiar… You give a finger and they take your hand… Peter, John, Philip…. I’m sorry….. C’mon, go away from here, and weep all you can in the kitchen…
Then Methelia threw herself at Jesus’ feet, sobbing…
Salathiel: Hey, what’s this? Have you ever seen such a brazen act? Jesus, why don’t you scare this bitch away!… Don’t waste your time on her… c’mon, c’mon…
Methelia: Please help my daufter, help her!!
Jesus stared at Salathiel, the Israelite, and smiled with sarcasm…
Jesus: Woman, how am I going to help you? I can’t waste my time giving the children’s bread to the dogs…
Methelia: That’s right, stranger… but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.
Methelia, her head bent, like a beaten dog, remained on the floor…
Jesus: Get up, woman. Nobody should be at the feet of anyone… Get up and go peacefully… Your daughter will be well, I assure you….
When Methelia left to look for her daughter, Jesus turned to Salathiel, the old patriarch of the Jewish barrio of Tyre…
Jesus: You were born in Israel, and nurtured by the history of love of our God… but you understood nothing. For God, there are no barriers. He removes them from among all nations like dry grass…. For the Lord, this is not a land of dogs but of people, like all the rest. No one is a stranger in the house of God.
Two days later, we returned to Israel, our country, passing through the road of the Phoenicians. We hardly felt that we were crossing the frontier because the land had the same color, the trees bore the same leaves and the birds, sang the same tune every¬where.
The Roman province of Syria was a foreign territory where a great number of Israelites used to live, and therefore, there was much contact between Syria and Palestine. More so, with the northern province of Palestine, Galilee, where Syria’s frontiers were located. Within the territory of Syria were two important cities of the Phoenicians, Tyre and Sidon. The Phoenicians were great navigators and merchants of the ancient world. The ruins of Tyre and Sidon presently correspond to the territory of Lebanon, in the north of Israel.
Tyre was an important center during the time of the gospels and lasted for centuries. Its two ports were actively engaged in commercial activities with other Mediterranean countries, as well as industries such as metals, textiles, dyes (specially purple) and glass. A flourishing Israelite colony was established there. Since the Jews were well known for their business acumen, they succeeded rapidly in this undertaking. But since they were a nationalistic people – racist at times – they never mingled with the inhabitants of Tyre. In the gospel, they were known as Syrophoenicians or Canaanites.
The gospels tell us that only on this one occasion did Jesus leave for a foreign country. Only with this Canaanite woman and with that Roman Centurion who had an ailing servant did Jesus show a sign of the Kingdom of God by healing non-Israelites. This act of Jesus certainly did not transcend geographical frontiers of Israel. He hardly had time to do it. But with his message, his words, Jesus absolutely rejected the kind of nationalism embraced by his compatriots. This was a novelty and a scandal for them at the same time. The group of Pharisees, the Essene monks and the people in general discriminated against foreigners in the much-awaited Kingdom of God. It was their belief that God would do likewise. Jesus completely destroyed this deeply-rooted nationalistic tradition.
Even in our time, there are nations today which feel a certain superiority over others and therefore feel they have a right to rule over them. There are also races who think they are more intelligent and more capable than the rest. In the name of this supposed superiority, they colonize, dictate laws, discriminate, persecute and kill. These ill-fated ideologies led, in Latin America, to massacres of indigenous inhabitants with extremely varied cultures, to the creation of encomiendas, as well as imposition of tribute. Eventually, it led to the enslavement of men and women of African origin, violently uprooted from their countries. The indigenous part of Latin America (more than 15% of the population) is composed of survivors of that historical crime. The 30 million blacks presently living in these countries are children and grandchildren of slaves brought to the continent like beasts, by white men who thought it was their right and even obligation, to enslave them. In doing so, they invoked the name of God, as they continue to do today, in order to justify racism and discrimination of any type.
Science has proven the absolute fallacy of the racist’s mind affirming that some races are superior to others. Biologically speaking, each human group has distinctive physical and psychic characteristics, not necessarily better nor worse than those of the rest, nor more valuable than others. Above all, historically speaking, races and countries have had unequal opportunities in developing their own set of values and expressing them. On the level of racism, it is easy to discover the plan followed by the oppressors and the oppressed. What makes it more horrible is the fact that these oppressors are mostly nations with a long history of Christianity. The whole gospel rejects nationalism and racism. Christianity in its original form combats any form of discrimination: There is no longer a Jew, nor a pagan, nor a slave, nor a free man, nor a man, nor a woman…. (Gal 3:28). Neither will there be a black nor a white, an Indian nor a Latin, Mulato nor Mestizo…. We are all the same in the eyes of God. We are all God’s children. Jesus makes use of irony with the Canaanite woman. He speaks to her, “one must not throw bread to the dogs.” He is doing it to highlight Salathiel’s lack of compassion and his glaring nationalistic arrogance. “Dog” is a word of insult in Aramaic as well as in Arabic language. The dog is considered a despicable and impure animal, for being a stray and for eating rotten and unclean meat.
As a Christian one cannot talk about frontiers separating all peoples. A wrong concept of nationalism is no less than a collective expression of egoism or false pride. While respecting the culture of each nation, their history and peculiarities, the Christian must be (as has always been said) a “citizen of the world,” an “internationalist,” sensitive to the pains and joys of people of every country, who is in solidarity with the struggles and just gains of all nations. In the world we live in, where the fate of a nation can no longer be detached from that of her neighbors for better or for worse, this is not only an ideal theology but historical evidence. In this episode, the miracle of Jesus directed toward the daughter of a foreign woman, is a sign that before God there are no frontiers nor races. God gathers people from the four corners of the earth, and the only sign that will distinguish the citizens of that nation are freedom, life and justice chosen by those who comprise it.
(Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30)