20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A Reflection:
JESUS AND THE CANAANITE WOMAN.
Faith, a way of life.
- Summary of ideas of today’s readings
- Beautiful dialogue: Jesus tests the faith of the Canaanite woman.
- Authentic Christian faith, transcends a mere intellectual plane. It is a way of life which includes taking risks.
Today’s readings underlines the following important idea: What saves is faith in God through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and not one’s race nor nationality. Furthermore, God’s plan for salvation is universal.
- Such idea was already emphasized in the Old Testament, when Isaiah 56:1, 6–7 (1st reading) announces that God will bring the foreigners to his holy mountain, because his house is a house of prayer for all peoples:
“The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants — all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
- The Responsorial Psalm goes along the same line as the universal message of salvation: “O God, let all the nations praise you! May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!”
- The 2nd reading (Rom 11:13–15, 29–32), moreover, narrates how St. Paul, who calls himself “The Apostle of Gentiles”, that is, people who are not Jews, or simply pagans, recounts the conversion of the Gentiles with the hope of the conversion of Israel to Jesus Christ: “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
- Finally, in the Gospel (Mt 15:21–28), Jesus extols the determined faith of a Canaanite woman, a Gentile (pagan), and heals her daughter.
Today’s Gospel includes a beautiful dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman who, indifferent of what others might think or say, insistently cried out for Our Lord’s mercy to cure her daughter who is severely possessed by a demon.
Apparently, Jesus kept silent, but still the woman tenaciously insisted, thus irritating the Apostles who begged Our Lord to send her away.
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
- What Jesus says here does not take from the universal reference of his teaching (cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16). Our Lord came to bring his Gospel to the whole world, but he himself addressed only the Jews; later on he will charge his Apostles to preach the Gospel to pagans. St Paul, in his missionary journeys, also adopted the policy of preaching in the first instance to the Jews (Acts 13:46).
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “0 woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
- With the expression “the children’s bread”, Our Lord was referring to Israel and its inherited right to God’s blessings. As in Mt 8:5-13, Jesus heals a faith-filled Gentile despite his intention to minister to Israel first (15:24; 10:6; cf. Rom 1:16).
- As for the expression “the dogs”, LITERALLY, they mean “little dogs” or “puppies”. Whereas, MORALLY, the expression refers to the Canaanite woman who symbolizes repentant souls. Incapable of boasting, contrite sinners lean wholly on God’s mercy; they recognize their weakness before God and can only beg for blessings, unable to demand from God gifts that he freely bestows. Only the humble and faith-filled are rewarded with spiritual healing. (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt. 52).
- By appearing to be harsh Jesus so strengthens the woman’s faith that she deserves exceptional praise: “Great is your faith!” Our own conversation with Christ should be like that: “Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful” (J. Escrivá, The Way, 101).
3. Authentic Christian faith, transcends a mere intellectual plane. It is a way of life which includes taking risks.
Christian faith is not just a matter of “knowing” the doctrine. There’s a big difference between “knowing” and “believing”; between mere “believing and “living what one believes”
- A Christian who has an authentic faith, yes, must know the doctrine.
- But doctrinal knowledge, though necessary and indispensable, is not sufficient.
- For faith is above all an intimate, trusting and loving relationship with a Person, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Knowledge must lead to a loving encounter with Him, which, in turn, should ultimately lead to witness and bear fruits through deeds/works of faith.
- Faith, in short, is a way of life. It involves living according to what we believe. And if one says “I believe in Jesus”, this profession of faith, if it is to be authentic, has to be coherent with one’s life. How? By striving to identify ourselves with Christ, to live His life for we, Christians, are called to be other Christs, Christ Himself (“alter Christus”, “ipse Christus”: St. Josemaria).
Living Christ’s life, identifying ourselves with Him involves taking risks, as He Himself did during his earthly sojourn, and as exemplified by countless saints, who gave up their lives, in order to gain Christ’s life. Remember? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up His Cross and follow me (Mt 16:24).”
Let us then examine ourselves with the words of Pope Francis: “Do I trust Jesus, do I entrust my life to Jesus? Am I walking behind Jesus, even if I may seem ridiculous at times? Or am I sitting down, watching as others do, watching life…” content with just being a “nominal Christian,” indifferent with doctrinal formation and with an inert faith without any repercussion in my life?
Lord Jesus, “make me believe more and more in you, hope in you, and love you (Adoro te devote).”
Mother Mary, teacher of faith, hope and love, help us believe in your Son with an authentic faith which is transformed into a way of life!
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