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Why was Eve created from Adam's rib? Was St. Peter married?

Q: I have always been troubled by the story of Our Lord and the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to cure her daughter, and he calls her a "dog." Can you help me understand this? (Leesburg)

A: The passage in question occurs in Matthew 15:21-28. Our Lord is approached by a gentile Canaanite woman (also called the Syro-Phoenician woman) whose daughter is possessed by a demon. On first hearing their conversation, Our Lord definitely seems hostile and uncompassionate; however, to draw such a conclusion is contrary to who Jesus is.

This passage is indeed complicated. Understanding the cultural context will help. First, Jesus' mission was first to the people of the covenant, i.e., the Jews, who were awaiting the Messiah. Technically, the mission to the gentiles was not granted until the Ascension, when Our Lord said, "Go out and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28:18-20). Nevertheless, He already had shown His openness to the gentiles, like curing the centurion's serving boy (Mt 8:5-13).

Second, Jews considered gentiles as "dogs." To call a person a "dog" was a severe insult. The Jews used phrases like, "gentile dog," "infidel dog" and later, "Christian dog." However, Jesus used the diminutive form for "dog," better translated as "puppy." So instead of calling her the insulting "junk yard dog," He calls her "lovable puppy." (Keep in mind the English translation misses this distinction from the original Greek text.)

One would also have to ponder about how Jesus said this phrase. He must not have said "dog" with contempt or scorn. Rather, He probably said it tongue-in-cheek. For instance, to call someone a "rascal" literally would be derogatory, but I remember calling my nephew (when he was a toddler) "you little rascal," of course in a loving way. Our Lord may even have been criticizing the normal Jewish parlance.

What is most important is the woman's faith and her perseverance: "Oh woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire." So in the end, Our Lord praises the gentile "dog" for faith and perseverance that surpassed the Jews.

Q: In the Genesis story, God created Eve from Adam's rib? Why a rib? Is there a special meaning here? (Via email)

A: In the second story of creation, Genesis 2:21 reads: "So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man." Some important literary imagery needs to be considered.

First, the "deep sleep" denotes God's divine activity. God Himself is the one creating. In Chapter 2 of Genesis, God created Adam from the earth and breathed life into him, and now He takes from the flesh of the man to create the woman.

Second, why God used a rib is a mystery. However, some scholars suggest that the word "rib" in the ancient Sumerian language means both "rib" and "life." Accepting this meaning of "life," all of the phrasing - "rib," "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh," and "man and woman," - denotes the creative love of God and the original unity of man and woman. Remember in Genesis 1:18, we read, "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them." While each person is made in God's image and likeness, the complete image and likeness of God is found in marriage when man and woman become one as husband and wife, when the two become one flesh.

Finally, one could find an allegorical or prophetic meaning to this text. Eve, the wife, comes to life from the side of Adam, the husband. Following the teachings of St. Paul and the church fathers, the church, the spouse, comes to life from the side, the heart, of Christ, the Spouse.

Q: Was St. Peter married? (Fairfax)

A: St. Matthew recorded in the Gospel, "Jesus entered Peter's house and found Peter's mother-in-law in bed with a fever. He took her by the hand and the fever left her" (Mt 8:14-15). Note that the passage does not mention St. Peter's wife, but only his mother-in-law. The Gospels, however, make no mention of St. Peter's wife, living or nonliving. Therefore, St. Peter's wife must have died before Jesus called him to be an apostle.

For full disclosure, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III) (c. 202), said St. Peter was married, had children and witnessed his wife's martyrdom in Rome. These terse points were recorded, citing Clement, in St. Eusebuis' The History of the Church. Given the silence of other church fathers about St. Peter's wife and children (who would have had some prominence in the history of the early church), and the lack of any archaeological evidence of ancient Rome, which holds the burial sites of St. Peter and so many other early martyrs, one would conclude St. Peter's wife died before he had been called as an apostle.

Questions may be sent to Fr. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls, at straightanswers@ourladyofhope.net or Our Lady of Hope Church, 46639 Algonkian Pkwy., Potomac Falls, VA 20165.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013