In the name of the Father, and of the son and of the holy spirit, amen.
Our Gospel this morning speaks of a mother’s unwavering faith in her meeting with Jesus. It has important lessons to teach us – as all encounters with Jesus do – a lesson about persistence, about humility, and about the amazing power of our own faith.
We start with Jesus withdrawing to Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has just fed the five thousand, healed the sick in Gennesaret, and mourned the death of John the Baptist.
He appears to be – quite understandably – tired and fed up. His manner could even be described as grumpy. He has come away from the big Jewish towns and cities and come to a non-Jewish area where perhaps he feels he may have some peace to process all that has just happened to him and as we turn to the rest of Matthew – face his questioning, trial and execution.
But as ever, this episode is deliberate – Jesus is teaching us something quite important – even when he is tired, grumpy and fed up – a lesson for me in and of itself!
When the lady – a Gentile, a non-Jewish person – approaches Jesus she is desperate. Her daughter is being tormented by evil and she pleads with Jesus for mercy.
The disciples respond by asking Jesus to send her away – ‘she is crying out after us!’ They are tired as well. They seem to be embarrassed and I’m sure they were looking forward to a rest as much as Jesus was.
…and this is what Jesus was waiting for. A moment to teach his disciples – and us – about the width of God’s mercy. He speaks to an inner thought that he knows all his disciples carry – ‘I am here for the lost sheep of Israel’.
In other words – Jesus says that he is here purely to care for the Jewish people – all those who were born Jewish but who have wandered away from the Law.
The disciples must have had a moment… hang on… look at this poor woman who needs your help – and we know you can help… and that is the moment Jesus is waiting for.
As soon as he says this the woman falls to her knees in front of Jesus and cries out, ‘Lord, help me!’.
She goes on, ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’.
With this simple exchange she has demonstrated her FAITH. She has demonstrated that Jesus is not just for the Jewish people but for all with faith! She has acknowledged Jesus divine authority and power – even in the face of direct pressure to say or do otherwise.
What an amazing woman! What an amazing faith! To not simply accept what is before her – but driven by LOVE for her daughter to kneel before Jesus and seek his mercy and Love in return – KNOWING that it will come. WHAT FAITH!
It is this faith that Jesus responds to – and here is the lesson for his disciples – and for us – it is our FAITH that comes from LOVE that God will always respond to.
Jesus grants the woman’s request, and her daughter is immediately healed.
There are four aspects of this encounter that we can learn from.
1 – Persistence in prayer
The woman did not give up at the first rebuttal – even though that rebuttal was so strong. Even when it feels our prayers go unanswered, we must continue to pray with patience and determination.
2 – Humility
Despite her pride and discouragement and the eyes of the disciples upon her – the woman kneels before Jesus – submitting herself to his divine authority. Her humility opens the door for a powerful exchange with Jesus. We must approach Jesus with the same humility in our prayer and here at mass.
3 – Faith
We learn that Jesus love, mercy and healing is not simply for one group of people – but for all. We need to consider our reactions when people reach out to us for help – do we send them away or dismiss them because they’re not one of us? Do we say that because you’re not Christian we can’t help you? Or do we do all we can to heal them and provide them with hope and love – and from that love the greatest gift we can give – FAITH in Jesus.
4 – Faith that moves mountains
Jesus describes the woman’s faith as ‘great’. Her unwavering belief in Jesus’ ability to heal her daughter and in who Jesus is shows us that a deep and genuine faith can move any mountain, can attack any obstacle in our life.
Our faith must be persistant, humble, and deeply trusting in Jesus.
As we approach the altar today we should pray for a faith that is unyielding, a faith that is willing to approach Jesus with boldness and humility, and a faith that recognizes the power of God’s grace to transform even the most difficult circumstances.
May we develop a faith that not only receives but also brings healing and restoration to our lives and the lives of those around us.
And as we leave today, may the story of the Canaanite woman guide us in developing a faith that truly moves mountains. Amen.