SHE DEBATED WITH JESUS AND SAVED HER DAUGHTER
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:1-7
Responsorial Psalm: Jeremiah 31:10-12,13
Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28
She was a minor character in the gospel, a pagan woman, but did not lack great faith. She could be regarded as one of those who violently took possession of the Kingdom of heaven, as Jesus earlier stated: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12). The courageous faith and humility of the Canaanite woman of the region of Tyre and Sidon (as reflected in the gospel reading) become a shining example to us who seek God’s help.
First, as Matthew puts it, she lacked the “credentials” – she was a non-Jew from a pagan root. Secondly, Jesus seemed to have snubbed her when she made her request to Him (concerning her daughter who was tormented by the devil), for the reason that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Put differently, the mission of Jesus was first to Israel, and then to the Gentiles (this we later see in Matt. 28:18-20 – great commissioning). However, she went up to Jesus, knelt at his feet and sought his help. Again, Jesus reacted, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ At this point, it was as if Jesus’ was telling her: “Go away; you have no right!” But she persisted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Here, her lively faith and humility enabled her to radically possess God’s favour. In other words, her humility and faith softened Jesus’ apparent ‘hardness,’ and He eventually granted her request, saying: ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.
In granting the pagan woman’s request, Jesus demonstrates God’s steadfast love and mercy, which was already directed to a given people (Israel) as depicted in the first reading, but reaches its fulfilment of in the person of Christ, as the universality of God’s love. In the first reading, God demonstrated his constant love and mercy to the unfaithful Israelites in exile, by telling of his intention to gather and rebuild them once again: “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel – it is the Lord who speaks – they shall be my people […] I build you once more; you shall be rebuilt, virgin of Israel. Adorned once more, and with your tambourines, you will go out dancing gaily.” Nevertheless, in Isaiah, we see a clearer depiction of “all peoples” going up to Mount Zion, with the temple in Jerusalem as a house of prayer for all peoples. This universalization of God’s love for the benefit of all peoples was the very project of Christ offered to humanity through His saving death and resurrection, which the Canaanite woman already received violently in anticipation as a result of her live faith and humility.
Dear friends in Christ, God loves us all unconditionally, this love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5). The pagan woman in today’s readings inspires and encourages all of us to remain steadfast in faith when seeking God even when it appears that the Lord is silent and distant. Thus, we need a quality faith to keep us engaged with the Lord, even when He seems unresponsive. At times, when the Lord seems unresponsive, he wants us to engage with him with a lively faith like that of the woman, and radically possess the Kingdom of heaven. Here, we talk about the availability of the Kingdom of heaven for everyone to radically take it, seize it, lay hold of it (that is the violence)! It is the inheritance of every single person. Ultimately it is up to the one who wants it with a sure help from God in acquiring it. For great is the violence, when we who are born of this world, seek a place in heaven and obtain by righteousness what we have not by nature.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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