The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (15:21-28)
In today’s gospel reading our eyes are opened to some of the hard truths and realities of life. Some of the dialogue in this passage is difficult for our modern minds to accept or comprehend, but I think that as with all aspects of the holy gospels, one sometimes has to dig a little deeper to gain a greater understanding of the depth and the meaning of the passage.
We have a very difficult moment in this gospel where our Lord Jesus Christ does a couple of uncharacteristic things. First he basically ignores the Canaanite women who is begging for help. Next, when He finally decides to respond to her, He basically calls her a dog. That is a difficult reality for us to understand. Why would the Lord Jesus Christ choose to treat this poor woman in this way? It’s as if we are missing some key that would unlock the meaning and shine a light on this whole passage. And that is exactly right. But what are we missing? What don’t we understand?
What we are glossing over is that the woman was a Canaanite woman. Why is this so important? It is important because if you study the history of the people of Israel, and their conquests you will remember that God the Lord told His people to completely wipe out the Canaanites. Why did He do this? Is it because God is a bloodthirsty barbarian? No. It was because of the extreme and utter evil and wickedness of these Canaanites. They were among the worst people that had ever lived. Their lives were a continual rebellion against God and His creation. They actively worshipped idols and they also had spiritual intercourse and fellowship with the demonic through cultic temple prostitution. They made child sacrifices of their own children. It is believed that they may have also participated in cannibalism. In short, these people, their culture and nearly everything that they stood for was rotten to the core. Yet it happened that some escaped destruction and survived and continued to exist in some form or fashion until the time of Christ.
St. Hilary tells us that this woman may have been a proselyte, someone who gave up her old way of life and was trying to live like a Jew, in obedience to the law. Nevertheless, she was once a part of and had grown up among the godless, and the Lord Jesus tests her through His seemingly strange behavior. What is He testing? Her dedication and her faith. After all this is what our Lord desires to see, dedication and faith. Faithful dedication. We can learn a lot about people’s disposition and genuine character when they are faced with obstacles and hindrances. The Lord isn’t merely interested in making her life difficult or testing her. No, He wants to bestow greater blessings on her than she can even imagine. She comes looking for healing for her daughter, who is possessed by a demon, but she leaves with her daughter healed as well as the recognition and acceptance of the Lord Himself, “O woman, great is your faith!” If only we would each work faithfully with the goal of hearing these words, my brothers and sisters.
When I hear of this woman’s example I want to cry out to God and say, “please transform my heart, Lord. Help me to be faithful even when there are obstacles and difficulties. Make firm what little faith I have and multiply it!” If only we have a portion of this woman’s humility, her determination, her courage and faith, then we will also keep going forward towards Christ, asking and begging and pleading with faith and we should have no doubt that the Lord will answer all of our heartfelt prayers for the benefit of our salvation. He might seem like He’s delaying. He might seem like He’s ignoring us. He might even seem like He’s cast us off to the side, yet we are convinced that the One who had love and mercy towards this woman, even though she came from an ungodly background and people, will also have mercy towards us. But have faith and determination and hope that God will answer.
How do we do this? How do we move towards God with more zeal and enthusiasm to be well pleasing to Him? St. Theophan the Recluse gives us some advice. He writes,
“In order that you may move your will more easily to this one desire, in everything—to please God and to work for His glory alone—remind yourself’ often, that He has granted you many favors in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image, and has made all other creatures your servants; He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of the angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favor and love for you; a favour so great that it is inconceivable how the great Lord of hosts could grant such favors to our nothingness and worthlessness.”
So part of our daily life is called to be a joyous remembrance of all that God has done for us. This is exactly why we come together on the Lord’s day, the day of the resurrection. To celebrate the work of God in the world and in our lives. And we are reminded that if the Lord showed mercy and love towards the Canaanite woman, there should be no doubt that He will do infinitely more for His own children, who were baptized and sealed under His holy name. In fact, we are even here at this very moment as proof of this overwhelming love that Christ has for each of us. May we take courage by remembering His mighty works and all that He has done to forgive, redeem and heal us. AMEN