Do you have strong faith, strong enough to persevere? Strong enough to persevere in spite of obstacles? Or is it a faith that easily gives up? Faith in what? Chance, Fate, God?
The message today really has to do with: “What kind of faith do we possess, and in what kind of God.”
Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus going to the districts of Tyre and Sidon. These cities are outside the boundaries of Israel – they are up North, along the coast. The people who lived there were not Jews like Jesus, they did not follow the religion of Israel. They were Gentiles, “Pagans”! The woman from that region came to Jesus. She was a Canaanite. As I mentioned, The Canaanites were Gentiles, Pagans, outside the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Yet they lived close enough to have some knowledge about the religion of Israel, and this woman apparently did. For she comes to Jesus, crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”
Notice the title she uses, “Son of David.” That is a messianic term. The messiah whom God had promised would be the “Son of David” – a physical descendant of the great King David, and the greatest one of all, even greater than David himself. The Lord had promised David that one of his sons would reign on his throne forever. And this son of David, this Messiah, this Christ, would usher in a glorious reign of blessings for Israel and---- a glorious reign of blessing for all the other nations as well.
This woman must have known the prophecies about the coming Messiah, the Son of David. She knew something of those promises, and it gave her faith. She was waiting and looking for the coming of the Christ. And she recognized in Jesus the one who was fulfilling those prophesies. She saw in him the promised Son of David. The Canaanite woman must have heard what Jesus was doing, his healings, his miracles, his acts of mercy. And knowing of this emboldened her to come forward with her request. As she states “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. Lord have Mercy.”
Several times in the Gospels we hear people crying out to Jesus with those words. Blind men asking for their sight. A father seeking help for his demonized son. And this woman, a mother, seeking help for her daughter who was suffering terribly.
Suffering can either drive us to despair, or drive us to our Lord. One of the benefits of suffering, strange as it may seem, is that it can lead us to seek the Lord and his mercy. When life is going smoothly and all is well, we might forget about the Lord and take his blessings for granted. But when suffering comes, and we have no one else to turn to, nowhere else to go – that is what it may take to get our eyes focused again on God. But when trouble comes, God says “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” That is what this woman is doing when she comes to Jesus. It is her day of trouble, and she is calling on God for help. She cries out “Lord have Mercy.”
Don’t we all carry some trouble, some misery, some pain with us as we come before the Lord here at mass? We come before God with all kinds of suffering and misery that finds a place in our lives and in the world. All the misery we pile up in this world through Contraception, Abortion, our sinfulness rooted in pride and self pleasure, a guilty conscience, the answer to all of it, ultimately, is in the mercy that took Christ to the cross. By his all-availing death, you and I will be delivered, finally, from all the misery that there is in our world.
Returning to the Gospel, did you notice Jesus’ initial response to the Canaanite woman – or should I say, his lack of response! As the gospel states “But he did not answer her a word.” Isn’t that surprising, not what one would expect. “He did not answer her a word.” What is going on here? Is Jesus being rude, or cold hearted? How do we explain his silence?
Come to think of it, how do we explain God’s silence in our own lives? How many times have we prayed to God in our distress, and we didn’t get the answer we were looking for, nor the relief. And we are met, so it seems, with the silence of God. This silence is a mystery to us. But we must remind ourselves, sometimes God moves and acts in a mysterious way. The seeming silence of God in not his cold-heartedness, but rather our inability to see and hear what God is doing. Just Maybe, He has a better plan in store than the one we have in mind. Just Maybe, He sees a need for humility. Just maybe, He sees a need for developing compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.
At first the Canaanite woman is met with silence. “He did not answer her a word.” Jesus is waiting….. He wants this woman to exercise her faith… But in spite of this seeming rebuff, the Canaanite woman persists. She perseveres. She kneels before Jesus and says “Lord Help Me.” But again, another obstacle is placed in her way. Jesus replies, “It in not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” That is to say, “It is not right to take the blessings promised to the children of Israel and give it to the gentiles.” In other words, “the dogs.” The woman came, not claiming anything as her right, but simply throwing herself on the Lord’s mercy. She was willing to be a dog that eats the scraps off the table. The Canaanite woman is not deterred.
Think of the obstacles that her God-given faith fought through: She was not deterred by Jesus’ initial silence, when he did not answer her a word. She was not deterred by the comment of the disciples, “Send her away.” She was not deterred by Jesus’ comment about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Nor by his remark about the dogs eating the bread of the children. This woman simply does not give up. She perserveres. Her faith, her God-given faith, overcomes all these obstacles.
God wants to give you that same kind of faith – persevering faith in a merciful Lord. God wants you to come to Jesus, time and time again, in spite of the obstacles in your lives. It is so easy to give up. People do it all the time. When there is suffering in their life, they give up and think that God is uncaring. When something goes wrong in their lives, people just give up and stop coming to Jesus. When something at church doesn’t go the way they like, people give up and stop coming to Mass or quit ministries. But God does not want you to give up. He wants you to persevere, in faith, like the Canaanite woman did, and to seek—and to find—his mercy and blessing. The Canaanite woman did not give up. And Jesus commends her faith: “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus grants her request and Her daughter is healed.
In closing, and returning to my initial questions:
1. Do you have strong faith, strong enough to persevere? Strong enough to persevere in spite of obstacles? Or is it a faith that easily gives up?
2. How do you view God? Do you see him as someone holding out on you? As being stingy with his gifts? Unwilling to help? Or do you see him, rather, as rich in mercy, ready and willing to help you?
3. How do you approach him? Are you willing to humble yourself as low as a dog, if that means being at the Lord’s table….. or are we just too proud!
The final question that we must ask of ourselves:
“What kind of faith do I possess? And in what kind of God do I believe in?” (Repeat)