August 10, 2017
At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
"Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon."
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
"Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply,
"It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed from that hour.
“Not everyone who says to me,
‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."
Today's gospel reading contains some dialogue from Jesus that could easily be classified as "hard sayings". First, he seemingly ignores the Canaanite woman. Then, he asserts that she is outside of the intended recipients of his ministry, the Israelites, to his disciples and later directly to the woman herself.
There are many existing theories as to why Jesus responds in the way He does, so instead of tiptoeing around heresies, I'm going to focus on the Canaanite woman. One of the most popular theories is that Jesus was testing the woman's faith, using the interaction not only to challenge her perseverance but also to make a point to his disciples. Can you imagine how the woman imagined the interaction playing out? I doubt it resembled what actually transpired.
With a strong faith can come strong expectations and inflexibility. I'm sure we all can recall moments asking, "Why won't God answer my prayers?", only to later understand that he was answering them in a way couldn't (or refused to) comprehend at the time. In today's first reading, the Israelites, the chosen people, quickly cave to despair in the face of inevitable difficult battles to enter into the Promised Land.
All in all, today's readings teach us the need for faith that goes beyond human capacity and reason, sometimes in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds (what I like to call Han Solo Faith). Today, the Israelites miss the mark and the Canaanite impresses even Jesus with her trust in His salvation.
One of the most fundamental and powerful tenets of the Catholic faith is that we need to cooperate with God's grace to enter into His kingdom. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The Canaanite woman is called to go beyond simply requesting Jesus' help, and instead required to demonstrate humility and perseverance in her faithful expectations.
One might say, "With great faith comes great responsibility" (an Uncle Ben kind of faith?). We must cling tightly to our faith in God, teasing out our own expectations so that we become free to respond to God's plan for our life.
Praised be Jesus Christ, who pushes us to go beyond ourselves.