Then Jesus went from that place and 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. (Matthew 15:21-28)
We believe that Jesus is divine, and we also believe that he is fully human. And it is in his humanity that he is influenced by his culture and that he acts at times with incomplete knowledge.
In today’s Gospel Jesus struggles with boundaries. He withdraws from Israel to Canaanite country, and a Canaanite woman comes and asks him to heal her daughter. The Canaanites were not Jews. They were pagans who worshipped many gods. Their sacrifices were seen by Jews as abominations. Most Jews of the time would withdraw from Canaanites. They would not interact with them.
Jesus seems at first to follow this approach. He does not respond to the woman.
Total silence. St. Matthew, an eyewitness, tells us, “But he did not say a word in answer to him.” It seems weird. It seems almost a cruel thing to do to a desperate mother. But Jesus, who almost certainly was prepared to work the exorcism, wanted to effectuate a far greater miracle on that day on behalf of the woman, on behalf of the disciples with him, and on behalf of all of us, and to do that, he needed to try her faith.
For us, we, too, need to learn how to deal with God’s silence. We pray and often we don’t seem to get a response. We pray again and it seems the door has remained shut. How we do handle it? Many of us give up, we stop praying, we think God doesn’t care, but what God is often doing in these circumstances is giving us a chance to learn how to pray perseveringly so that we may grow in faith to such a degree that we will always persevere in fidelity. Jesus is never silent. It’s only our ears failing to hear what he is saying or our minds rejecting the words because they are not what we want to hear.
The second lesson that springs from this Gospel is how we live and deal with the labels we use to define people.
We who follow Christ are asked to deal with other people in truth, not according to the false and prejudicial labels, which are often found in our environment. If we claim to be believers, we must not say, “This is the way Jews are. This is the way Moslems are. This is the way alcoholics, or homosexuals or people of a different race are.”
We must ask ourselves whether we are viewing others through our own real experience or through the prejudices that labels can convey. To allow our lives be directed by the half-truths of labels is a serious flaw. It places us in direct opposition to the design of God.
God makes people. We make labels. So instead of letting our lives be directed by the prejudices that a label can carry, we are obliged to discover and to respect the real people God has made.
We cannot claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and use language and labels to set us apart. We are called to be inclusive and to live according to the great commandment. Do we do that or do we allow the rhetoric of the day to influence who we are as children of God?
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, your love and mercy knows no bounds. May I trust you always and pursue you with indomitable persistence as this woman did. Increase my faith in your saving power and deliver me from all evil and harm.”
Jesus praises a Gentile woman for her faith and for her love. She made the misery of her child her own and she was willing to suffer rebuff in order to obtain healing for her loved one. She also had indomitable persistence. Her faith grew in contact with the person of Jesus. She began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God. No one who ever sought Jesus with earnest faith – whether Jew or Gentile – was refused his help. Do you seek the Lord Jesus with expectant faith?