August 14, 2011
The Eighth Sunday after TrinityHave you ever noticed that the dearer something or someone is to us, the greater the need and greater our efforts are to achieve what we want? Most parents sacrifice a great deal so that children can have a better life than they did themselves growing up. Some young adults will give up free time so that they can study for college exams and improve their GPAs, or retain scholarships, and graduate with good hope for secure jobs. Those who are serious about losing weight and maintaining good health will exercise daily and eat nutritious food; food that is perhaps not especially to their liking.
Today's gospel reading (Matthew 15:21-28) of a Canaanite woman, a foreigner, approaches Jesus with a heartfelt request to heal her daughter. It is interesting that the gospel makes it a point to indicate that this woman is a foreigner or not from the “House of Israel”. Jesus seems to imply anything but a welcoming response. However she does not give up.
Many people and scholars tend to take this particular passage and think of it as very harsh. Jesus seems to initially exclude the Canaanite woman from his ministry. But the woman isn't daunted, because so great is her desire for her daughter to be healed. And because of this, the woman wins! The life of her daughter is at stake, and this gave her the courage to challenge who are to be the recipients of Jesus' ministry.
In this gospel, Jesus initially declares that his mission is only to, “the House of Israel” and consequently, and seemingly harshly, rebuffs the Canaanite woman. The continuing dialogue between Jesus and this woman leads Jesus to marvel at her great faith and thus heal her daughter. This gospel challenges us to be persons of strong faith and persistent in prayer and courageously continue asking for our needs. For such people God's salvation is already given. The encounter between Jesus and the woman reveals the unrestricted mercy of Jesus, the power of great faith, and the universality of salvation for those who believe.
There is even more good news in this gospel. Even “scraps” in God's kingdom are sufficient to meet our needs. The inclusiveness of salvation embraces all people. This gospel passage shows that even among perceived exclusions Jesus is truly open to all. And further, he embraces and meets all of our needs. Great faith recognizes that even a little bit from God is sufficient. Such faith sees the great worth that even a little bit from God holds. After all, what God offers us is life! And this life is more than even our own human life; God offers us a share in the divine life, now and for all eternity.
The Canaanite woman's single-mindedness on behalf of her daughter is rewarded with her daughter being healed. The gospel challenges us to be just as single-minded about placing our requests before God. And just as single-minded about our own inclusive ministry to others.
You might note that it is interesting that the Canaanite woman's cry to Jesus was that he “have pity on me”; not on her daughter, but on “me”. Although, certainly that was surely implied in this request. Her love for her daughter and her great desire that her daughter be healed, could not be separated from herself. She and her daughter were one in the need for healing and life.
This gives us an insight into our inclusivity and ministry. We must be so “at one” with others that someone else’s plight is our own plight. Single-mindedness, but inclusive of others. So indirectly, this gospel is asking the question, “Do we allow ourselves to be drawn in to other’s needs?” Ministry is more than doing for another; it implies an empathy with another that discloses the unity we share as members of the body of Christ. One dimension of living the Gospel is that we work to increase our unity with one another, which in turn draws us to reach out to others in mercy and compassion, no matter who they are or may be.
We sometimes think that our words to God must be correct, the “right ones”, polite, holy, and/or loving. We have a hard time “arguing” with God in the manner that the Canaanite woman used with Jesus. Our conversations with God must be as real and honest as our conversations with each other. Our God is not an impersonal God. Sometimes God wants us to argue with him. Sometimes God wants us to let our passion come forth in our words. Sometimes God simply wants to know the we care; that we believe; that we have faith!
Personally, I don't think Jesus really meant to exclude this woman all. We see by his ministry that he never excluded anyone. The woman at the well; the tax collector; the Roman Centurion, just to name a few. This passage gives the impression that Jesus was rebuffing this woman. We remember how his Disciples were taken back when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well; surely some of those same thoughts crossed their mind again here. However I don't think that was his intention at all. I think his intention was simply a ploy for his Disciple’s sake. Jesus had already associated with outcasts and lepers. Do we honestly think this woman made such a big difference from those others he had already ministered to?
Once again Jesus is showing us by example; he is showing us in a parable set on a real-life encounter; that everyone we meet, no matter who they are or may be, are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus did not exclude anyone from his ministry. Nor should any ministry claiming to be Christian exclude anyone either. And further, Jesus also makes it extremely clear, that for those who persist to call upon him in faith will be rewarded with an answer. Faith is believing and trusting when life tells you otherwise.
Jesus is telling us today that we are all loved by God no matter who we are or what life we come from or what need we have. When we come to him, we are being called to come in faith and persistence, and as such, we will not be turned away.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.