In last week’s gospel we heard Jesus saying to Peter and the rest of the disciples “…O you of little faith as they were frightened by a horrific storm.
Today we hear a story where Jesus after a confrontation with the Canaanite woman praises her great faith.
What makes faith little or great? It would seem to me that these statements by Jesus beg the question of us – what is faith and how do we know if we have little or great faith. What does faith look like and how do we define it anyway? The truth is faith is hard to describe but I bet you have seen incidences of faith in action, so faith is something tangible and visible to all of us.
If you go to the scriptures you will find over 250 places where faith is mentioned but only one of those gives us a definition of faith. Paul defines faith for us when he wrote “Faith is confident assurance of things unseen but believed” (Heb. 11:1).
We need to look at the two statements about faith by Christ if we are going to be able to respond to today’s gospel. In the encounter of Christ during the storm Peter is afraid and uncertain but makes a request of Jesus to allow him to walk to him on the water. Peter’s need reassurance as do the rest of the disciples. The Canaanite woman has a different kind of need; her daughter is tormented by a demon, so her need is for someone she loves.
Today’s gospel story is set in a region which was pagan country, home of the famous Jezebel and her prophets of Baal. The Canaanites were referred to as “dogs” by the Jews because they were among the unclean and thus to be avoided by the Jews. The first remark by Jesus to her seems to indicate he also held this view of them being unclean. She calls him “son of David” which indicates she knew the prophecy of the Messiah coming from the line of David. We do not know if she accepted him as the messiah but she certainly believes in his access to God and that he can free her daughter.
Jesus at first does not respond to her and I believe it is not because he thought she was unclean because we have seen him touch the lepers, dine with sinners and mingle among those the Pharisees considered unclean. Why would he be in this region of pagan country unless he had something to teach us about our attitudes and her desire to approach him to heal her daughter?
Here is the interesting thing for us to consider; his ignoring her did not deter her in any way. She would have known that the Jew’s considered the Canaanites to be unclean. However, her un-cleanliness did not stop her from going to Jesus. Consider how we would approach Jesus when we have sinned and thus know we are unclean? We know w have separated ourselves from God each time we deliberately sin. We know our sin has created a barrier between God and ourselves we stay away just as the prodigal son stayed away for all those years.
But this woman is teaching us something about being in the presence of Jesus and that is to be undeterred by our sinfulness. She cried out when she is ignored and makes him take notice of her. His next response to her seems to be a put down when he rebuffs her saying – my mission is to the lost sheep of Israel. What he is saying to her is you are not worth my time for I am only dealing with the chosen people. We see the chosen ones all around us. They are the ones who believe they deserve to be rewarded for their faithfulness while those who have not been faithful should be punished.
Her state of grace did not deter her and when Jesus seems to put her down by saying “it is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.” She simply reminds Jesus that even the dogs eat whatever falls from the banquet of the Lamb.
Jesus could no longer avoid her and he proclaims her faith is so great what she desires will be granted. Many of us listening to this gospel story will conclude that faith is a belief that God will act if we persist. Faith is not a belief about something but faith is a belief in something and that something is Jesus Christ who came for the forgiveness of our sins and to show us the father. It is a belief in the love of God being so great that nothing can separate us from that love. It is a belief in the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform and change our hearts so we are able to live as God designed us to live as holy men and women.
By believing in Jesus that woman was proclaiming that she trust in him and his “…desire for our welfare not our demise” (Jer. 29:11). She was trusting Jesus with her daughter’s future to a man the Canaanites did not believe in. Her desire was for her daughter so she boldly sought out the very person who could offer her life, joy, peace and life in the kingdom of God he came to establish. She overcame every obstacle to reach and ultimately have a conversation with Jesus. What about us? What obstacles stand in the way of us having a conversation with Jesus?
Last week we see the obstacle that caused Peter’s faith to falter as did the faith of the disciples in the boat. She did not cower before the obstacles thrown at her while the disciples cowered before the winds and the waves that buffeted them. She asked and Jesus remained silent. She asked again and again and he said no to her in a manner that should have discouraged her. She kept on asking and she received. But note during all of this she was humble, never once did she dispute of challenge his preference to be serving the Jews. She was willing to settle for leftovers because she knew no matter the size of what God offers us it was going to be enough to bring life to her.