So let’s dive right into it: for most of this gospel Jesus doesn’t seem to act and respond in the way that we would expect. A woman comes to him asking for her daughter to be set free from a demon, and at it’s almost like he doesn’t care. First he doesn’t answer her, then he says he wasn’t sent for her, and then he dismisses her pretty harshly… and as she just keeps pleading with him, I think it leaves us wondering “why?” Why would Jesus not immediately have compassion and heal this woman’s daughter? And the real question, would he ever do the same to us? Is Jesus not who we think he is? He even says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and guess what, we ain’t part of Israel. So what are we supposed to make out of this gospel?
Let’s start with Jesus saying he was only sent to Israel. Recall the title that the Israelites receive throughout the Scriptures: the Chosen People. What makes them the Chosen People is that God entered into a covenant and revealed Himself to them in order for this very reason – that He could send His Son to them, and they would have the preparation needed to understand who Christ is. I mean… imagine if Jesus was sent to the Gentile world instead. Imagine if he was born in Rome and ministered and taught and healed a people who believed in pantheons of many gods and who would barter with their deities – I offer this god some sacrifice, he does something for me in return. If Christ performed his miracles in that context they wouldn’t see in him the revelation of the Creator and the presence of a loving God desiring to be in relationship with His people, they would see a figure of power, one amongst many others, that could help them and harm their enemies for the right price. This gospel takes place in the region of Tyre and Sidon, the territory of the Gentiles. So Jesus knows, he knows that if he heals in this pagan context the people will not understand who he is, and instead of helping them to know the Father, they would become even more lost by their lack of understanding.
But this woman, this pagan, Canaanite woman… she understands. She asks for pity. She names him as Lord, Son of David. She accepts that she is not an Israelite, that she can’t receive the fullness of His message and eat at the table. And in her persistence she knows and proves that there is no other power to turn to, that in Christ the healer there is the only real and true source of life. And so coming to see all this in her Christ can then say, “you have faith, I can heal because you will understand.”
And if there is any doubt still remaining about Jesus and whether or not he cared about people beyond his mission to Israel, consider this: Jesus chose to travel to Tyre and Sidon, pagan cities outside of Israel. He chose to be present to the Gentile world, knowing that in the near future, once his mission was complete and his sacrifice made, they could truly learn who he was. Jesus was sent to Israel, but he was for the entire world. So that fear of being abandoned, of being rejected in our need… that fear should never reside in us when we approach Christ. He knows our hearts and knows that we understand who he is. We are the Gentiles from the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, loving the name of the Lord and living as his servant.
But still… I know that at times we do feel abandoned as we pray for things only to find our lives sink further. If that has been your experience recently, I would ask you three things. First, do you understand who Christ is, that he is not a good luck charm to grant what you ask, but our Savior with a mission of revealing the Father to us and relationship that goes far the worries of this life? Second, have you persevered like the Canaanite woman, bringing your need to prayer repeatedly, for days and months and even years? Lastly, do you have humility? The Canaanite woman knew that she wasn’t part of the Chosen People; can you accept that your vision is limited and that there are things you may not yet understand? Those three things were the model of prayer embodied by the Canaanite woman. Recognize Christ, persist, and be humble.
May all us be like that Canannite woman and cry out to our God, knowing that in all things he is Lord, the son of David, the Savior of the world. And may we imitate the mercy of God, who now in the fullness of time has shown that people of every nation, every tongue, and every culture are united in Jesus Christ, one house of prayer for all peoples.
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.