Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jesus and the Canaanite woman - Sunday homily

This passage about Jesus and the Canaanite woman produces some of the funniest biblical commentaries.  Commentators range from the mildly crazy to the ludicrous.  For example: One says the woman caught Jesus off guard. Another says Jesus insulted her. One says it “depicts the woman as an aggressive single parent who defies cultural taboos and acts to free Jesus from his sexism and racism by catching him in a bad mood with his compassion down, besting him in an argument, and thereby becoming a vehicle of his liberation…” In my high view of Christ, I disagree with all those.  I say he knows her faith, and he knows the thoughts of his disciples.  So He says their thoughts to show it to them. 
We see a major shift of great significance happening in the Gospel today and it is supported by both of the other readings and the psalm.

As today’s Gospel begins, it seems that salvation is only for the Jews, or as Jesus calls them: “The lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So that’s the historical mindset at the time. Only a few will be saved. Then after the Canaanite woman persistently asks that Jesus heal her daughter, we see that salvation is for all peoples.

Isn’t this good news? Only the Jews were going to be saved, but now the nations can be saved. That includes us. That should bring us great joy. We get a glimpse of this every time we participate at Mass. As the priest says the words of Jesus consecrating the wine that becomes His Precious Blood, he says: “[It] will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Not just a few, but many. Salvation is offered to many nations, not just one. Salvation is offered to the multitudes. That’s awesome!

Our first reading and psalm both predict this shift that the nations will have the opportunity for salvation, not just the Jews. Several hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah foretold that foreigners would come to the Lord’s holy mountain. Isaiah called God’s temple a house of prayer for all peoples. This is a new idea for that time. And St. Paul supports it in our second reading when he points out that the Gentiles are offered salvation.

What does this mean for us? The Gospel is our invitation to accept the Lord Jesus and have faith in Him. We are also called to imitate the faith and perseverance of the Canaanite woman.

We see at first, Jesus is hesitant to heed her request and heal her daughter. Why? Is He testing her? Maybe.  But he is definitely allowing her to be a witness for his followers. He is even allowing her to be a witness for his closest disciples. We know these guys. Sometimes their faith was weak. With great perseverance the Canaanite woman is a witness to faith in Jesus.

We could acknowledge that having a chronically ill or possessed child would have been a terrible trial for the Canaanite woman, and it could even have wrecked her spirit thus sending her into the despair of defeat. Then it looks like Jesus may be adding insult to injury. But he knows her heart. He knows she has faith. And that faith is a game changer. She does not despair in her difficulty, but she perseveres.

St. John Paul II says faith is the adherence of the intellect to the Truth revealed, a submission of the will, and our gift of self to God. This Canaanite woman had all three of these aspects of faith. She had adherence to the intellectual idea of Jesus as Messiah. She called him Lord and Son of David. She had submission of the will and offered her gift of self to God. In great humility, she risked ridicule and discomfort approaching Jesus asking him to heal her daughter. In humility, she acknowledges her own insignificance and it pleases the Lord. When Jesus used the analogy of feeding dogs, she didn’t pipe in and say: Hey, wait, how dare you insult me?” In her great humility, she said even the dogs get the scraps.

In her humility, she was able to show great faith. And her faith seemed far more advanced than even some of Jesus’ closest disciples. They would learn that salvation is offered to all who believe in the Lord and keep His commandments. Our national origin and social condition don’t matter.

God has offered both Jews and Gentiles a common path to salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ. All have sinned. All need salvation.

All have been offered salvation in Christ.

We see a really awesome parallel happening: In the mystery of the Incarnation, God takes on human flesh. He uses the human to bring us to divinity. He is using this opportunity with the Canaanite woman to bring the disciples to a greater righteousness.

Jesus already sent the 12 to the lost sheep of Israel. Now, He is getting them ready for a wider ministry. They have great work to do. They have to learn to be a conduit not obstacles for people to meet the Lord.

Eventually, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus finally sent his disciples to make disciples of all nations. He gives the Church its universal mission, its catholic mission. The Lord gives all of us that same opportunity to be witnesses to him with our faith.

The faith and perseverance of the Canaanite woman moved Jesus. Our faith and perseverance move Jesus as well. Jesus’ silence makes her belief that much firmer. Can we persevere in prayer through the silent times?

This Eucharist gives us the grace and strength to witness to our faith in Jesus every day. Let us be insistent in that faith and persevere in prayer. Let us respond by acting on that faith in our daily lives.