TO APPROACH JESUS WITH HUMBLE AND PERSEVERING FAITH
(A biblical refection on 18th Week of the Year – Wednesday, August 8, 2012)
Memoria of Saint Dominic, Priest and Founder of the Order of Preachers
Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28
First Reading: Jer 31:1-7; Psalms: Jer 31:10-13
The Scripture Text
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Mt 15:21-28 RSV)
Jesus and His disciples now leave the area around the Sea of Galilee and proceed northwest to the Mediterranean cities of Tyre and Sidon. This was the locale of ancient Phoenicia (referred to as “Canaan” at the time of Jesus, see Mt 15:22), thus pagan territory. The theme of the passage is aligned with this setting. Jesus’ ministry was directed to the Jews, the people of the promise (Mt 15:24; see also Mt 10:6). Jesus seems to ignore the first entreaties of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:27). Only the persistent faith of this pagan woman, who recognizes the precedence of the chosen people but who still insists on the portion of the blessings Jesus’ mission brings, causes an exception in the priorities.
In the Gospels, there are only two people commended by Jesus as having “great faith”. One is the centurion who tells Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8,10). And the other is this Canaanite woman, whose persistence with Jesus paid off in healing for her daughter (Mt 15:28). What’s even more impressive is that both were Gentiles, outsiders who would have been considered unclean by most faithful Jews.
Because she was a woman as well as a Canaanite, this desperate mother had two strikes against her. But that did not stop her. Out of love for her daughter and with faith in Jesus’ power to heal, she did not let these “handicaps” get in the way. She began by addressing Jesus in Jewish terms of faith – “Lord” and “Son of David”. When Jesus made no reply at first, she persisted and asked once more for His help. Receiving yet another rebuff, she cleverly and humbly acknowledged Jesus’ words but boldly pointed out that even she – an alien to the Jewish covenant – could benefit from Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. Finally, Jesus commended her great faith and healed her daughter.
There are two key aspects to this Canaanite woman’s “great faith”. First, she was humble. And second, she was persistent. She readily paid Jesus homage – which a Gentile woman would not have considered necessary – and she was quick to acknowledge her lowly position as a non-Jew in God’s plan of salvation. As for her persistence, this woman was not put off by Jesus’ silence, by the rebukes of the disciples, or even by Jesus’ initial response. Instead, these obstacles only made her draw even closer to Jesus and intensified the earnestness of her request!
Jesus acknowledges the privilege of Israel as the chosen people of God. But ultimately, access to the life-giving power of His mission is achieved only by humble and persevering faith. We ought to keep questioning ourselves: “How persistent/persevering is my faith?”
Now, if you have a need that calls for intercession, let this woman’s humility and persistence/perseverance teach you how to approach Jesus. Don’t worry about how to approach Jesus. Don’t worry about how you can best grow in these two virtues. Every day, we face challenges and trials that give us the plenty of opportunities to learn their ways. If we just keep our eyes open and our hearts pure, we will become humble, and we will end up persisting. Then, we’ll learn that Jesus is always with us, strengthening our faith and hearing our prayers.
Important Note: There is little doubt that this story was an important statement of principle for the Jewish-Christian church of Matthew (note the reluctance of the disciples in Mt 15:23): gentile converts, because of their faith, were to be fully accepted in the church (Mt 15:28) [Donald Senior C.P., READ AND PRAY: GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, Chicago, Illinois: Franciscan Herald Press, 1974, p. 53.
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to draw closer to You. Teach me, Lord, always to approach You with humble and persevering faith. Amen.
Jakarta, 7 August 2012
A Christian Pilgrim