Grace to you!
Many commentaries and books have been written concerning Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Canaan as recorded in Matthew 15:21-28. Some criticize Jesus, arguing he treated the woman derogatorily. Others see in the conversation a divine-human conversation to reveal the rare gift of faith from a gentile. This latter is my take, and much more.
Reading the story, I see something I have never noticed before. God’s word is ever new.
Remember that whatever the Old Testament spoke concerning the day of the Lord, the Lord Jesus lived and fulfilled. Typology (the study of different types, symbols or figures and messages that point from a promise to its fulfillment), as a tool in biblical interpretation, helps us to see how the Lord Jesus fulfills Divine promises of Old.
Isaiah had prophesied a time when the gentiles, foreigners and strangers, who weren’t welcome in the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, would find a home in that house. “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7). The gentiles will join “themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord” (Is 56:6).
Watch the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ through whom and in whom this prophesy is fulfilled. His conversation with the woman of Canaan captures it.
The Canaanite woman calls on the Lord, joining her petitions to the Lord. She cries to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David...” (Mt 15:22).
Jesus didn’t answer. Very unusual. The scene begins to unravel the biases of the disciples and the audacity of the woman’s faith.
The disciples of Jesus who thought salvation was only for the Jews, observing that Jesus didn't answer the woman, were quick to tell Jesus to dismiss her. The Lord seems to show indifference: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). Observe that Jesus addressed the apostles, not the woman.
The woman came and knelt, begging the Lord for her daughter’s healing. She wouldn't accept that blessing was not for her too.
Then came the more shocking statement, totally unlike Jesus, this time addressed to the woman, suggesting the pet dog in the house shouldn't be given the children's food. To which the woman insisted that the pet dog in the house could feast from the scraps falling off of the dinning table of kids.
Of course, then came the main lesson of the text: The Lord said to her, “You have great faith. Your request is granted” (Mt 15:28).
The Lord already knew what he wanted to do. But for the disciples who believed faith was only for the Jews, so also the salvation mission of the messiah. Jesus shows through this conversation that there are many outside the so-called realm of salvation who have great faith, much more impressive than those of the disciples.
Not only was the Canaanite from a gentile territory, she was also a woman. Recall that for a typical Jew of the time, these two are limitations to great faith. However, the Lord reveals through this dialogue how the Canaanite woman’s faith is a model of great faith for the disciples.
From time to time, some believers live as if to say the house of God, the home of Christ, Christ himself, is for a particular people or race. I recall a time in the past when some philosophers, politicians and theologians argued back and forth whether those from Africa and the unknown world (then the Americas) could conceptualize the profundity of the Christ-event. As naive as this sounds, it reveals the mental default of some thinkers who want Christ only for their family, not for others.
Today's message reminds us that the gift of faith, through which we gain access to the plenitude of Divine Grace of salvation and all it entails, is for all. The Church is our Church, not their Church. Do not allow anyone to make you feel less welcome in your, our Father's house. Faith is the access to that house, the home of salvation. And faith is a gift accessible to all.
Praying that God will make us disciples of the unifying power of faith. Amen.
By the way, would you please pray for me as I clock 12 years of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood today.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[20th Sunday Ordinary Time A: Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.