Aug 7, 2012

A story of great faith

"Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!"

Mt 15: 21 - 28
At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
"Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon."
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
 His disciples came and asked him,
 "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply,
 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
 But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
 He said in reply,
 "It is not right to take the food of the children
 and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
 that fall from the table of their masters."
 Then Jesus said to her in reply,
 "O woman, great is your faith!
 Let it be done for you as you wish."
 And her daughter was healed from that hour.

The word “faith” like the word “love” is one of those throw around words in our English language.  Just as love has multiple meanings and implications so too does the word faith.

When we enter our cars for whatever purpose of our journey, we have faith that we will arrive safely.  If we purchase food at a local grocery store, we have faith that when we eat it we will not become sick. If we arrive on time at the airport to catch our plane for a planned journey, we let go of all control once we enter that airplane and put our entire trust and faith in the pilot and the cabin crew. 

In the realm of religion, each Sunday we profess our faith in the Nicene Creed.  When people enter the Church at the yearly Easter Vigil, they make a profession of faith. St. Paul writes that we are justified by faith in Christ (Gal 2:16). And throughout the Gospel stories of the miracles of Jesus, he will often say to the one who was healed, “Your faith has saved you” or “made you well .”

In the Gospel this Wednesday, we hear Jesus proclaim, “O woman. Great is your faith!” Canaanites were not Jews.  In fact they were among the pagan believers of Jesus’ time and it is clear from the Gospel above that Jesus himself saw them as outside his mission: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”While this may sound a bit harsh, a kind of impolite snub from Jesus to this well intentioned woman, I wonder if it may be more of a test.

There is no doubt she is persistent.  The love she has for her daughter far outweighs whatever harsh treatment or cultural prejudice she may receive.  Even the Apostles are hardly enamored by her persistence: "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."

Rather than dismissing her, however, Jesus engages her in conversation. Calling her a “dog” in today’s climate of politically correct speech raises the hair on the back of our heads, perhaps. However, Jesus is reflecting the prejudice of his time and the attitude of the ancient Jews.  Just because he uses the phrase does not mean that he himself believes as it sounds.  Remember, the Apostles were within ear shot of this conversation. Clearly the woman had heard such things before so she may not have been particularly shocked.  Yet, she persisted. She passes the test by the Lord. 

What test exactly? “If you are asking me for this favor; you who are not from the lost house of Israel” we may hear Jesus think, “do even you really believe I can do this?”

And Jesus heals her daughter – “. . . great is your faith!”

How often do we as well have our faith tested?  The faith of the woman and what we too are called to goes beyond mere words.  Anyone can stand and recite the grand Nicene Creed with great flair and sincerity. Today we recite theological terms such as “consubstantial” and “incarnate.” However, those are just words unless we give ourselves over to Christ Jesus as this woman did. 

She placed all her trust in him.  She came to him speaking from her heart and her deepest longing for her daughter.  She knew that Jesus could do something and she was determined to overcome whatever obstacles stood in her way.  It was pure faith in his Person that she pleaded with Jesus to do something and she obviously knew he could heal her.

Her faith is a call to all of us who wonder how far we would go if challenged. Do we have the conviction of our beliefs? As the wonderful thought goes: “If we were found guilty in court for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict us?

How persistent are we or do we pray with a half-hearted faith?