18 Sep Impressing Jesus – The Canaanite woman’s faith
Faith is an important part of our journey in God. Jesus, time and again, reminds us of the need for faith through his sermons, parables and miracles. He questions and challenges the people to find the faith within them. One such beautiful event in the Gospels exemplifies the faith of a Canaanite woman. Matthew and Mark record this event of a Gentile woman who comes to Jesus for her daughter. Jesus encounters this woman as described by the Gospel writers, when he forays into the Gentile territory. After having had a busy few days, Jesus did not want the other people to know where he was staying. In spite of this, the Canaanite woman finds Jesus. It reminds us of the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Jews had a very definite view of Gentiles. While Jews were the chosen race, the Gentiles were not. While Jews worshipped the true God, Gentiles did not. The rules to keep the Jews to be holy turned into discriminating boundaries over the centuries. Jesus in his discourses emphasised on the principle behind the Law rather than the rule of the Law. In both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the passage preceding the incident of the Canaanite woman, shows Jesus talking to his disciples and Pharisees on the importance of a change from within. He narrates that sins like pride and avarice come from within the heart. They were more dangerous than not following ritual practices of washing and cleaning, as propagated by the Jewish religious authorities. Following which, in the dialogue with the Canaanite woman, Jesus brings out the faith and humility of the woman. One can but wonder that Jesus was giving a practical example to his disciples on humility. The woman perseveres even after Jesus seemingly ignores her. She believes that the only one who can change the life of her daughter, is the man before her. She kneels, she entreats, she surrenders and this is because she believed.
Pope Francis writes, “Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust.” The Canaanite woman received this free gift. She was willing to be as humble as possible, and likens herself to a dog. This was because she had the courage that she would by this humility, receive the healing for her daughter. The woman had the courage to trust in this man, who claimed to be the Son of Israel’s God. She was willing to step out of the boundaries of her nation like Abraham, the father of faith. Like Abraham, she blindly believed. Jesus, the Son of God tested her faith just as Abraham’s faith was tested. Faith in God and his word should be present in our lives especially during tough situations. As St John Paul II says, faith is demanding. While Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son to prove this faith, the Canaanite woman was ready to accept the sovereignty of Jesus. In her efforts to find healing for her daughter, the conversation with Jesus led her to find the true God.
Through this quest, the Canaanite woman joins the list of Gentile women in scriptures who through their faith impressed God. There is Rahab, who sees the God of Israel through his mighty deeds. By seeking him, she saved herself and her family from destruction. There is Ruth, the Moabite woman who was faithful to her mother-in-law Naomi, declaring, “Your God is my God.” In this faith, she chose to stand by her during times of crisis. Rahab and Ruth turned to the God of Israel during their times of trouble. They were richly rewarded for their faith, so much so that, they are named in the ancestry of Jesus, the Messiah. Their past, full of hurts, was transformed into grace and love. Pope Frances in Lumen Fidei writes, “Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call.” Both Rahab and Ruth identified God’s call. They were willing to be led by His plan for their transformation and renewal. It took them from out of their comfort zones – their familiar places. In their times of trouble, they looked up the Lord, who made heaven and earth. They were not bound by life’s struggles. Rather, their faith enabled a complete sacrifice. And God in turn, renewed their lives and transformed their pains into graces. As does the Canaanite woman. The prejudice between Jews and Gentiles did not stop her from recognising the call of God. In her time of trouble, she too looked up to the Lord who made the heaven and earth. Jesus, in turn renewed her and transformed her.
The Canaanite woman humbled herself before the Lord. St. Teresa of Avila writes, “Humility cannot exist without love, and love cannot exist without humility.” The woman’s love for God and her daughter is evident, in how she was willing to be mortified. Her answer, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” exemplifies her faith and love for God. She knew that he is the only one who could help her. She knew that he had the right to chasten her. This knowledge made her the epitome of faith. Jesus paid her a huge complement, “Woman, Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 16:28). What a great privilege, when the Lord, himself praises your faith. The Canaanite woman impressed Jesus with her faith, humility, perseverance in prayer and love for her daughter. Through his discourse with the Canaanite woman, Jesus draws out her qualities, that which qualify to be his disciple. He teaches his apostles and future leaders of the church who were around him, of that faith which transcends boundaries of gender, nationality and human pride.
St Augustine sees in the Canaanite woman, the prefiguration of Mother Church, as in humility she goes to her Lord to save her children from the clutches of evil and sin. She bends her knee and speaks for her children. She expresses faith and her allegiance to the true God. In Jesus she identifies her God, who saves. Our God is not a partial God, rather he looks for faith in the people, be it Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, rich or poor. God is the Lord of all creation. No one is beyond his will for salvation. And those who possess this faith understand his love. Rahab, Ruth and the Canaanite woman understood this secret of faith. Have we?