05 August, 2020, Wednesday, 18th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 31:1-7; JER 31:10-12, 13; MT 15:21-28 ]

Very often in life, we give up faith in people and even on God simply because our capacity to love those whom we find difficult to love is limited.  To the extent we love these people, to that extent we will be able to overlook their flaws, mistakes, oversights and clumsiness.   This is true concerning our friends and loved ones as well. With our beloved, we are ever ready to excuse their failures because love, as St Paul remarked, covers a multitude of sins. (1 Cor 13:5)   If we find ourselves intolerant of someone’s mistakes, it simply means that we are lacking in love and love has become a duty or an obligation.

In the first reading, we read of the everlasting love of God for Israel. “The Lord has appeared to him from afar: I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you.  I build you once more; you shall be rebuilt, virgin of Israel. Adorned once more, and with your tambourines, you will go out dancing gaily.”  Despite Israel’s constant infidelity since the day Yahweh delivered them from the slavery of the Egyptians, God would forgive the people time and again after allowing them to suffer the consequences of their sins so that they would come to realize for themselves that going their way was the wrong way.

God never gave up on His people that He has chosen.  Through Jeremiah, He said He would bring about a new exodus again, with the Israelites returning from exile in Babylon, crossing the desert and passing through Samaria before arriving back to Jerusalem, the City of God.  “You will plant vineyards once more on the mountains of Samaria (the planters have done their planting; they will gather the fruit). Yes, a day will come when the watchmen shout on the mountains of Ephraim, ‘Up! Let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God!’  Is not this the way we love our loved ones?  So long as we love them, we will never give up on them. Even when our children are difficult, rebellious, lazy, irresponsible, rude, ill-mannered, unfilial, we will still love them and care for their well-being, their food, their work and their health.   When we love, no matter how tired we are, how frustrated we may be, we will still keep our patience and forgive easily.

This was the kind of love that the Canaanite woman demonstrated in today’s gospel.  A devil was tormenting her daughter.  We can imagine how distressing it was, not just for her daughter but for the mother to watch her daughter going through the torment.  Those of us who have dealt with those who are suffering spiritual oppression or disturbance of the evil spirits would understand the kind of anxiety that they have to live with each day.  Even if it were not spiritual possession or disturbance, just trying to manage our loved ones suffering depression can be very trying on everyone.  We are not able to reach out to them when they are going through that depressive state, often threatening to commit suicide.  Just the sight of them will break our heart.   Therefore, we can appreciate how much the woman was going through with her daughter whenever the latter was tormented.

It was her great love and sympathy for her tormented daughter that made her humble herself to come before the Lord to beg for mercy.   Although Jesus appeared to have ignored her request, she continued to plead for her daughter.   She was making such a scene that warranted the disciples to also plead with Him, “Give her what she wants, because she is shouting after us.”  Of course, it was not out of mercy for the woman that the disciples pleaded with Jesus.  Rather, it was to give them some peace and privacy so that they could rest, for that was the reason for them to withdraw to that region.

However, this love gave birth to faith in Jesus as well.  In her desperation she turned to our Lord in faith.   She called Jesus, “Sir, Son of David, take pity on me.”  We must understand the historical context of this title.  The Phoenicians were enemies of the Jews because they conquered their territory.  They remained resentful of the Jews.  But in confessing Him as the Son of David, this Canaanite woman proclaimed Jesus as her king. It was an acknowledgement that Jesus was indeed the King of Israel.  She knew that Jesus would be able to save her daughter.

Love and faith call for humility of the heart.  When we love and when we have faith in someone, we are willing to humble ourselves.   So, too, for this woman.  “The woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet.”  When the Lord said to her that He was “sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”, the woman did not dispute the fact that Israel was the chosen people of God.   It took her great humility to accept that God’s choice for Israel was sovereign and that it was not her prerogative to question the wisdom and election of God.  She could accept this fact.  However, she did not stop there.  She knew that the heart of God was much bigger than just His care for Israel.  She knew that God’s heart was never confined to a particular race.  So when the Lord in a loving way said to her, “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs”, she replied graciously, “Ah, yes, sir, but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.”

How lovely that this woman understood the heart of God more than the Jews during that time!  She knew that God would love them just as He loved the Jews.   Indeed, this was the message of St Matthew in narrating this incident in the ministry of Jesus.   That this episode of Jesus’ encounter with the pagan woman is placed immediately after the debate on ceremonial purity, serves to underscore that the Gentiles would no longer be separated from Israel.  All that was needed was faith. Her faith far exceeded the faith of the Jews in Christ.  Such faith would bring healing and salvation.  Indeed, later on, Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles confirmed this fact when he remarked, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  (Acts 10:34f)

However, it was not only the woman who demonstrated great love for her daughter and surrendered in faith to our Lord.  Jesus showed that His love for us is even greater.   This was because when the Lord entered into pagan territory, He was trying to find some peace amidst the rising hostility of the religious leaders against Him.  And earlier on, we read how He was saddened by the death of His cousin, John the Baptist and how He wanted to take time to pray, away from the crowd, but He could not go anywhere unrecognized or unknown, because the people would follow after Him.  He ended up ministering to them.  So Jesus and His disciples thought that taking refuge in the pagan territory would be the safest and most private place to be without being disturbed unduly.  So we can understand the reluctance of Jesus to respond to the plea of the woman, for fear that He would draw the attention of other people and that would once again disrupt His desire for privacy so that He could think through His ministry and discern how to move forward.

Indeed, it is love that overcomes every obstacle to healing, forgiveness and restoration.  When we love, we will place no limits to what we can do.  Even when all the odds are against us, we will do everything in our power to make it happen.  Let us pray for the love of God so that with this love we can also love our brothers and sisters like Jesus, especially those who are very difficult to love.  Through our patient, forgiving and long-suffering love, we will be able to heal them and give them new life and hope.   It is this love that will also give us the faith of the Canaanite woman to never give up on difficult people, or on the power of prayer, because God never gives up on us as well.  With faith and love, there is always hope.  This is why these three virtues go together.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.

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