20th Sunday :Year A – Encounter with the Divine
In this Sunday’s gospel we see a troubled outsider trying to get a foot in the door. This Canaanite had two strikes against her; she was a woman and she was a Gentile. At this point in Jesus’ ministry it looks as if outreach to Gentiles wasn’t part of his job description, as if compassion and healing were for the Chosen Race only. We know that eventually Jesus came to accept both women and Gentiles in that world where women and men played two different roles, and where Jews and Gentiles avoided one another. Today’s church, which is inspired by Jesus, continues to struggle with appearing to be misogynist and indifferent to outsiders.
Jesus doesn’t come across in a very attractive way in this gospel story as we struggle to “get something” out of it. We are told that he “withdrew” towards this Gentile region, maybe to take some time away from the crowds in Galilee. A woman approaches and is shouting at him repeatedly as he keeps his distance. She wants him to show some compassion and cure her demented daughter. The incident may have taken place on the border area between the two territories; the Greek text isn’t clear as on whose side, if any, the meeting took place.
Both were meeting each other in an open, mutually vulnerable place. The woman, who clearly had heard about Jesus, was outwardly approaching him and demanding to be taken notice of. Was Jesus inwardly and through grace already moving towards the woman? This play on physical space shows a spiritual movement that may have been at work here: the woman is brought into the Promised Land by Jesus reaching out across the borders, into the pagan world.
His words to the woman came from his Jewish culture and he says to her, in effect, ‘You’re not one of us, the Chosen Race, so I can’t help you.’ She doesn’t back off like many people crawl away when rebuffed by churchmen. She stands her ground and engages Jesus in a grown up way. He is smitten by her faith-like trust. “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the one who is leading” – Oswald Chambers. “‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted’. And from that moment her daughter was well again” – Matt 15, 28.
We are here in order to grow and deal with God as adults, just like the Canaanite woman with the sick daughter dealt with Jesus and he with her. Faith is not primarily our assent to a number of religious propositions, but a kind of knowing for certain and trusting that we are loved. Despite his seeming coldness, she must have had an inkling she was loved. The late Father Michael Paul Gallagher put it this way: “Faith is the vision arising from being loved.”
Fr. QQ – 8/13/2020