“Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”
It is interesting to observe that the three Readings at this Mass, including the Psalm focus on the centrality of ‘foreigners’ in the story of salvation, the universality of God’s mercy; the challenge these pose to the Jewish people then and today, to the Church and to us. God’s salvation is for all peoples of every land. Being God’s children means being like God, a life that looks lovingly and mercifully on others and appreciates them just as they are. This is how God loves us. He knows our worst yet loves us best. The Jews, then and now, were supposed to be humble in their favoured position as a “Chosen People” without being discriminatory and without looking down on others rather they are supposed to be a source of God’s blessings to all peoples of all nations. The Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7) echoes this when he speaks of the time when all will be welcomed to share the blessings of God and the temple in Jerusalem shall become “a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Psalmist (Psalm 66) sings in anticipation of when the nations of the earth will praise God for all His blessings upon them. St. Paul, in the Second Reading (Romans 11: 13-15; 29-32), wrestles with the question of the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledges his own mission to the pagans pointing out their role in the redemption of Israel. In the Gospel (Matthew 15: 21-28), Jesus ventures out of the Jewish territory into the Gentile nation to demonstrate that His mission is not only for the Jewish people but for the Gentiles also, and indeed for all peoples everywhere.
Let us turn to the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman and draw some lessons from the entire story for our Christian lives. Perhaps one may be surprised at Jesus’ seeming rebuff of the woman: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” One may wonder why Jesus did this: was it because she was a woman, the mother of a possessed child, a foreigner and worse still a Canaanite? Was Jesus responding the to the traditional hatred between the Jews and the Canaanites? None of these was the case. Rather Jesus’ silence and hard responses were intended to awaken true and instill deeper faith in the woman, who called Him “Lord” twice and addressed Him as “Son of David.” The woman in the story was not discouraged and did not withdraw. She was a woman who had great love for her daughter and deep faith in Jesus. Such love is not quenched easily. The more she was rebuffed the more she was fired from within. She saw Jesus as her last hope and so nothing would stop her from realising it. She was a woman with undiscourageable patience. These qualities enabled her to respond so wisely to Jesus’ seeming insult – “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.” To this, the woman responded: “Ah yes, Sir; but even the house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.” Jesus is pleased with her perseverance. Jesus knows that such perseverance is a sure sign of deep faith in Him. And so He grants her request based on her demonstration of faith: “Woman you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” The attitude of Jesus here equally explains the reason for God’s seeming silence to our prayers and requests. Sometime our faith has to be tested by divine silence. At such times, we, like the woman in our story, have to demonstrate such stubborn resilience that shows how much we love and have faith in God.
In this story, the apostles could be said to play the roles of intercessors, a role they play today for us as saints in heaven. Be this as it may, we could still ask the question considering the circumstance of the story: were the apostles acting out of compassion or was it to get rid of a nuisance? Either is possible in this case. Perhaps the next time we intervene on behalf of someone or we grant a favour to anyone we should to ask ourselves why we do it. We could intervene for our comfort and benefit; we could help with the hope of a reward; of course we could also intervene from truly selfless and altruistic intentions.
We are called today to be undaunted in our faith; to have the courage to push even when the forces around us are in opposition; to trust in the mercy and power of Jesus and God, the Father.