Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 Matthew 15:21-28
The readings of today tell us of the universality of the mission of Christ and the need of every individual to place his trust in God Almighty. A human person may show this trust through his prayer to God and this is reciprocated by the unlimited gifts of God to man. In today’s Second Reading taken from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, we heard that God’s gift and calling to Israel was irrevocable. His gifts are gratuitous and given out of total love for us. While Paul expressed sorrow over Israel’s blindness, he was quick to point out that God can make good things come out of everything. Today in the First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, we heard the Words of the Lord God, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar. In this prophetic exhortation and warning, the Lord promised to bring to His holy mountain all the foreigners, the Gentiles, who unite themselves to Him. The gospel of today tells us the story of the Canaanite woman who puts her trust in Jesus and looked for the gift of healing. This gospel story tells us that it is necessary to trust in Jesus and persist in our prayers. We have to learn to be tenacious when we are certain of the justice of the cause. It tells us that we cannot remain with prejudiced minds and be ready to change as Jesus so nicely does in the encounter with the woman.
We begin with the Gospel. Jesus entering non-Jewish territory, something he very seldom does. We find him in the district of Tyre and Sidon, two coastal cities on the Mediterranean coast geographically present day Lebanon. Here he encounters the Canaanite woman from that region who comes close to him and begins shouting at Jesus, asking of him a favour. The Canaanites were the traditional enemies of the Jews and regarded as pagans and idolaters. As it was not the general practice for the Jewish people to mix with the Samaritans, also, it was not the regular exercise for them to mix with the Canaanites. This does not discourage this person in her desperate need. She cries out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” She calls him with the messianic titles. The reputation of Jesus was well known there as a miracle worker.
At first, he ignored her. He did not answer her at all. The more Jesus ignored her, the more the woman shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The more the woman shouted, the more the disciples of Jesus were getting annoyed and urged Jesus to send her away so she will stop shouting. In this particular case, when the disciples were urging Jesus to dismiss the woman, this was not a request to just get rid of her. Based on the exact meaning of the original writing of this passage of the Holy Scripture, their request was for Jesus to dismiss the woman by granting her petition. They in fact pleaded Jesus on her behalf to do a special favour for her and work the miracle.
What is important is that in her prayerful request we find both helplessness and faith. Faith is man’s response to the revealed word of God. Her faith is expressed in the titles she gives Jesus: ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. They indicate that she sees in Jesus someone above the ordinary, a saviour and healer. Even then Jesus simply ignores her, as if she did not exist. He turns a deaf ear to her pleading. This is very similar to the miracle of calming the storm where Jesus was asleep when disciples were struggling. Jesus responds to the pleading with strong words, that he is sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Therefore, she is an outsider; her problem is of no concern to him. He need not have to do any miracle for the woman.
But strange indeed is the faith of the woman. She is not discouraged by any of this. She comes and kneels before him, an act of worship, and prays simply, “Lord, help me.” Jesus’ answer seems quite shocking: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The pagans were identified with the dogs. The words of Jesus seem to be very cruel and hurting. The Jews regarded dogs as unclean, because they would eat anything given to them and the Gentiles for the Jews were no better than dogs. The woman’s response is still more shocking. She does not take the words of Jesus as an insult and she knows what she wants. It looks as if she is challenging him at his words: “Oh yes, Lord, but even the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” At least the unwanted portion of the food is available for such persons as her. With this she expresses her abounding and unlimited faith. We now see the reaction of Jesus so reassuring and consoling. He is completely won over by her faith, her confidence and her wit: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The miracle of faith takes place and her daughter was healed instantly.
The story of the Canaanite woman gives us several lessons. It tells us of the total trust and confidence in Jesus who really cares for us. It also tells us about our prayer which has to be sincere and persistent. We must realize that this does not always result in receiving whatever we ask for. It helps us to see more clearly what God’s will is for us. The story tells us that God’s love is universal and no one is outside his purview. What is necessary is the faith in him and he will do the rest. That is why prophet Isaiah says, “I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.” His Kingdom that is on earth now and that is to come is not meant for only one people. It is a universal kingdom, where every one has a place of love and security.
‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver’: This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study. That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman asked the silversmith, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.’ God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.