Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 409

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Saint Matthew received this story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman from Saint Mark's gospel. He made very small changes to the story to emphasize not who Jesus was or how he behaved but the response that the Lord looks for in us.

Both Evangelists tell us the woman was not a Jew; neither a Syro-Phoenician woman nor a Canaanite woman would know anything about Jesus' ministry. Messiah, Son of David, Holy One of God: these titles might arouse her curiosity but not her religious wonder. But her daughter was tormented by a demon; she was obviously not disposed to approach Jesus out of curiosity. Her mind and heart were elsewhere.

Nor would Jesus expect her to appreciate his task. He can hope to meet acceptance only among the people who have been prepared by generations of faith, people schooled in the songs, stories and rituals that originate with the prehistoric figures of Abraham and Moses.

Jesus probably tried to escape notice in order to dedicate more time and energy to training his disciples. In any case, Matthew will redirect our disciplined attention to Jesus' word to the woman, "O woman, great is your faith."

Where Saint Mark emphasizes the woman's prayerful persistence, Saint Matthew reminds us of faith.
Here is a new understanding of faith; it is the desperate, courageous, outspoken urgency of a woman who wants more than anything else on earth her daughter's relief. She has no more "standing" in Jesus' "courtroom" than her anguish, although her anguish is not a specifically religious thing but a mother's plea.

Some people want to separate religion and human need. They tell us we should approach God with the open-minded coolness of the philosopher. Perhaps we might say to God, "If you don't mind; if it's not too much trouble; I know you're busy managing the universe and have better things to do; and, of course, you don't like to intervene in the fine tuning of the universe; but, if it be your holy will, I'd appreciate your healing my daughter, please."

The men and women who demand healings of Jesus rarely demonstrate that much patience; they're desperate, they ask, beg and demand; and he answers their prayer because they have "great faith."

Comfortably middle class with an ingrained sense of entitlement, I find it hard to bring that much desperation to my daily prayer. I need a few things but I'll be fed this evening and I'll sleep in a comfortable bed tonight. Sometimes I have to pick up the newspaper or listen to the latest report of tragedy to remember how dependent I and my loved ones are on the mercy of God.

I have to stay away from "my happy place" and go to that desperate place of anguish where the Love of God waits for my plea. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.