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Weekly Message 02-03-08: The Canaanite Woman

The Canaanite Woman

It matters, of course, who is included in the community that has arguments about what is and is not defiling. The question of who is to be included in the people whom Jesus by his preaching and teaching, is calling into existence is resolved by his leaving the controversy with the Pharisees and scribes to go to the district of Tyre and Sidon. It is like going to enemy territory. These are not Israelite cities, so it is not surprising that He encounters a Canaanite woman who identifies him as the Son of David, begging him to exorcise the demon that is tormenting her daughter. Jesus, however, unlike his encounter with the centurion (Matthew 8: 5 - 13), remains strangely silent. The disciples beg him to send her away because she continues to shout at them. To many, it seems the Lord is harsh as Jesus tells her that He was "...sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Jesus told the disciples to go only to the cities of Israel, but this is the first time He actually says, He is sent to the lost sheep of Israel. And yet, we have seen from the beginning that those who are not Israelites have been cured and instructed by him. Outsiders recognize, unlike many of the people of Israel, that He can do what no other person can do. And here He is recognized by a Canaanite. That Canaanites still exist, given Israel's war against them, is remarkable. This time, however, Israel's Joshua does not kill or slaughter, but heals the Canaanite child.

Just as remarkable is that this Canaanite is a woman, a woman capable of recognizing that this is the son of David. She refuses to be deterred by his silence and continues to beg him for help. Jesus answers in an even seemingly more derisive fashion, using the Israelite derogatory name for Gentiles, to tell her that food intended for children should not be given to dogs. Talk about being politically incorrect! Yet this woman, this extraordinary woman, observes that even dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table. This is no fool the Lord is speaking with and He knows, which is why He draws an expression of profound faith from her.

Jesus, exactly as He commended the faith of the centurion, praises this woman's great faith and persistent devotion. There is certainly nothing little about her badgering of Jesus. Faith, it seems, is exemplified by our willingness to ask and implore and ask and ask again, over and over without let up. If we believe in the uprightness of our cause, we should never abandon it. Accordingly, Jesus who healed the centurion's servant, declares that for which she asks will be done, and her daughter is instantly healed. This woman, this unknown Canaanite woman, not only becomes for us who are Chosen People, even for those who are to become communicants of the Church of Christ, the forerunners of faith, but her reply to Jesus teaches us how to speak. It is not accidental that we are taught to pray before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

We do not presume to come to the altar table, dear Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in God's manifold great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table, dear God, but you are the same Lord whose sublime and innate property is to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink of his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and most importantly, He in us.

The Canaanite woman recognized what she needed. She beheld the One who could provide it. Precisely, perhaps because she was a mother, she would not be dismissed and redirected on another path in her time of need. Not only was her daughter ill, grievously ill, but she experienced a unique pain of her own in witnessing her child in such distress. Having responded to it in the grave handicap in a whole variety of ways, none of which were successful in producing change in her daughter, she concentrates on the redemption of her difficulty. Psychological pain can be just as intense for some as that experienced in the dentist's chair. Pain that is intense and brief is different from the gnawing, never-ending pain of some cancer patients. Pain that is understood and known to be short term - like a headache - is handled differently than pain that is long-lasting and undiagnosed.

We do not know precisely what illness befell her daughter or what agony she suffered and some people feel little pain even after major illness, while others feel real pain even when there is no organic disease. Some deny their pain and pretend that it doesn't exist; others almost enjoy suffering. While these differences may in part have biological causes, many individual differences in pain tolerance result from a person's attitude about pain, cultural and family backgrounds, past experiences with pain, personal values, and religious beliefs. Some think admitting pain is a sign of weakness while the opposite might be the thinking of those who wish to endure great and profound pain because they think it identifies them as particularly strong.

It is note easy to be sick, especially when ordinary routines are disrupted, when we do not understand what is wrong with our bodies, or when we do not know when or if we will get better.

It was from this background of sickness shortcoming that the Canaanite woman emerges and foreshadows of her teeming- -with-misery life and opens a barrage of faith explosions on the Lord. She obviously has heard about him; knows of his ability to cure the incurable, to do the unthinkable. Now that she has finally encountered him, will she simply give up because his disciples insist she is a royal pain and should be dismissed?

Notice carefully how our God uses this so-called non-believer, this enemy of the Chosen People, this woman who never attended, as far as we know, the synagogue or temple of God. But perhaps we should notice firs all those around Jesus, those of his own blood and bone, of his own faith and background who literally dismissed him like a leper eager and intent on spreading the AIDS of his time on innocent folks. Those who identified themselves a believers were not believers at all, simply playing charades with God's revelation to man. Instead of being Church, they played church.

So what becomes galling to all the observers, particularly the disciples, is that this woman of historically opposed values to the Jews, has the audacity, the colossal nerve to approach the Son of God. She obviously knows a lot more than those who should no more, but they can't live it or express it. The little that she knows and believes, becomes an astounding reason for the cure of her daughter. This Canaanite woman with her very narrow and small package of faith does great things with it. The Jews who have the entire fullness of revelation from God, are abysmal failures in that regard, Protestants today who surround us in our community have a very limited understanding of Christ and His Body the Church, but look what they have done with it. Orthodox believers, like us, however, who have everything we need to save our souls, who enjoy richness and fullness of faith, do not use it for that it is intended. How many have rightly observed, "the right faith was given to the wrong people!" Is that true of us?

Because she would not let up, because Christ saw in her heart the fullness of necessary faith intent, He was constrained to grant her wish. How could He refuse her? How could He dismiss such richness of belief? In seeming to dismiss her, He caused her faith to grow, to be enlarged, to be strengthened, to emerge triumphant, finally over all the prolonged agony in her life. Being faithful to Christ, regardless what happens in our lives produces for us the

very same reality. If we endure to the end, we shall be saved!

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