Mt 15: 21-28
The pagan woman in this morning’s gospel reading has been described as one of the great heroes of the gospel tradition. She displays a mother’s identification with her child. Although it is her daughter who is in need, her prayer to Jesus is ‘take pity on me… help me’. Her daughter’s distress is her distress; her daughter’s need is her need. Twice she appeared to be rebuffed by Jesus. On the first occasion, he responded to her plea with silence. On the second occasion, Jesus declared to her that his mission was to the people of Israel, that the food intended for God’s children cannot be thrown to the house-dogs, the pagans. Yet, this desperate woman sees an opening in that image of children and house-dogs that Jesus uses. She declares that the children and the house dogs can eat together as happens when the house dogs eat the crumbs that fall to the ground from what the children are eating. This witty and ingenious interpretation of Jesus’ image finally brings Jesus to grant her request, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your request be granted’.
Jesus may have wanted to limit his mission to the people of Israel during his earthly ministry, but this pagan woman could not wait and in the end Jesus could not but grant her request. She displays the kind of faith that moves mountains; her faith certainly moved Jesus. She shows us what persevering faith against all the odds looks like. Here is a faith that endured in the face of silence and resistance from the Lord. It is perhaps the purest form of faith imaginable. It is the kind of faith that endures the dark night of the soul and waits patiently for the dawn.
We need something of her faith today. We need a quality of faith that keeps us engaged with the Lord, even when the Lord seems unresponsive. In reality, the Lord always responds to us when we engage with him, even if it is in ways we don’t fully understand at the time. Amen
Fr John Peter