A woman came home one evening from Church and encountered a thief in her house busy taking her valuables. Being a woman of faith and familiar with the Scriptures she shouted: Stop! Acts 2:38!!
For those of us who don’t know the Scriptures as well as she did, Acts 2:38 reads: “Repent and be Baptized in the name of Christ so your sins may be forgiven.”
When he heard the woman shout, the thief stopped in his tracks, sat down and put his hands behind his head.
The woman calmly called the police – and when they arrived, the man was still sitting there - as she explained everything that had taken place.
As the police handcuffed him and began to lead him to the squad car – one officer asked him: “how did a simple Scripture verse get you to stay until we arrived - why did you not just run off.”
“Scripture verse?” the thief said. “I thought she said she had— an ax and two 38s!”
The woman, however, was not surprised at all. As she knew from past experience, her faith would get her through anything.
Evidently, so too, did the woman in today’s Gospel. As Jesus eventually says to her: “O woman, great is your faith.”
The ending of this Gospel story we can certainly agree with – but the beginning may be a bit hard for us to swallow or to understand.
A poor woman asks Jesus for a favor – and he not only ignores her – but he even insults her by calling her a dog.
What was going on? Was Jesus — testing her faith? Was he so preoccupied by his primary mission to the Jewish people that he could not deal with anyone else? Was Jesus just reflecting the cultural prejudices of his day against the Canannites: ancient enemies of the Isrealites. – Or was Jesus just being somewhat playful?
After all, dogs were kept as pets in Jesus’ day and “dog” does not always mean something bad.
Way back in my seminary days at St. Meinrad in Indiana, I had a roommate who got up, always a little bit too cheery in the morning -
would look at himself in the mirror and say, “Oh you handsome dog, you!” Granted his good looks were exceeded only by his humility!!
What was going on when Jesus refers to this woman as a dog?
Well, let’s admit, we will never know for sure – because for instance, we don’t have the benefit of Jesus’ inflections or his tone of voice, or his facial expressions or gestures – all of which often times speak louder than the words themselves.
Let’s look at the Gospel, then, from the point of view of our own reaction to it.
Why are we so uncomfortable with Jesus’ treatment of this woman – or at least I should say – my discomfort with it. . .
Is it because we think Jesus or God should never say NO to us?
Is it because we think Jesus should answer every request that comes his way?
Is it because we think God should never force us to ask for something more than once?
Whether we are aware of it or not – we all have our expectations of how we think God should act. But sometimes God doesn’t fit those expectations. . .
How many times have we ourselves felt like this woman – that God was ignoring us – giving us the cold shoulder – or even offensively telling us to go away?
And what do we do when God says NO to us? Do we keep on asking, like this woman of faith - do we get angry and vow to never turn to God again for any of our needs? Or do we peacefully say: thy will be done?
Sometimes we do just have to accept what comes our way as the will of God – but other times, Jesus encourages us not to give up praying: keep asking, keep knocking – Jesus has told us in some of his parables.
Today’s Gospel is a good example of faith and perseverance in prayer.
It also strikes me as a good example of praying to the saints and asking other people to pray for us. Notice that the women went to the apostles and asked them for help as even they wanted Jesus to send her away “for she keeps calling out after US.”
But that must have worked, and Jesus found he could not ignore her any more. We don’t always understand the dynamic of prayer - as we don’t always know the mind of God. >>
But Jesus said there is great power in united prayer. He will remind us in a couple of weeks “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray – it will be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”
My own personal opinion of what was happening in today’s Gospel – is that Jesus was simply tired and worn down. . .
He recently heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. And most of us know how exhausting grief can be.
He had recently gone home to Nazareth and could do not do any mighty works because of their unbelief. And many of us know how rejection of any kind can zap our joy.
He had battled the scribes and Pharisees multiple times in the last few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel – and last week had to deal with the lack of faith of his closest followers.
I think Jesus was simply tired and worn down –
How many times have you or I said or did things when we were tired, that we wish we could re-do later after a nap or a day off? But Jesus is going to keep at it – perhaps this encounter with the Canaanite woman allows him to re-focus – and recommit himself to his pastoral ministry.
But just like clockwork – next week Jesus will have to deal with the lack of faith of his closest followers.
Let us ask God for the grace we need – to stay awake and alert to the needs of others – even when we think we simply can’t do one more thing. . .
Moments in time...