Sunday, 17 August 2008

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 15:21-28
Today’s gospel text contains one of the most bizarre passages in the Gospels: In it Jesus speaks words to a woman in need, and yet His words seem inexplicably harsh. He first seems to refuse her request for a healing. Then He compares her to a ‘house-dog’ because she is a Canaanite not a Jew. Though, finally, he commends her faith and grants her the miracle, yet, His rude harshness seems bizarre. How can the God-man who normally looks on the crowds with compassion, who seeks our and saves the lost, how can he speak like this?

There are two meanings to this event:
One, for the Israelite apostles who were listening, so that they might see the faith of a non-Israelite and see the truth of the teaching that Christ came to save the gentiles too;
The second, for the woman herself –a test of her faith, a tough test.

Many commentators note that the text records His tough words but does not record His tone of voice and does not record the look on His face –both of which may have very significantly altered the way the words came across.
Yet, regardless, His words are tough.
However gently said, they are clearly a TEST of her faith, and test that seems tough.

Rather than attempt to explain the motives and intentions of Our Lord, I’d like, instead, to note that His testing of the woman in many ways parallels the testing he sees to make of each of us in our lives.
We might ask: WHY did He test the woman’s faith?
We might also ask: Why does he test OUR faith? Why is life difficult? Why does God knock us about so? Or, rather, Why does God allow life to knock us about?

A partial answer to the reason of why life is difficult is not hard:
Suffering is in the world because of the effects of Original Sin –not because of God;
Suffering is in our lives because we each need to carry the Cross as Our Lord did;
Suffering is in our lives because there is no road to purification, no road to the Resurrection but by the Cross.
But, still, suffering is a test to our faith.

If we look again to this Canaanite woman, How did she respond when her faith was tested?
She held on: She did not say, “I do not understand why Jesus is saying this, therefore I will walk away”
In effect she said, “I do not understand why Jesus is saying this, but I do still know that He is a mighty miracle worker, he is clearly the Messiah, therefore I will continue to come to Him because there is nowhere else for me to turn”

The simple lesson we can learn from this woman, is that, We, too, when life’s events seem to test our faith, we need to hold on to the basics, the basics of our faith:
God does exist
He is a good God
He is in charge of life and of my life
He is with me and for me, even if I don’t see how.

Though on one level today’s gospel seems bizarre:
One of the key messages of today’s gospel is that we must hold on even when our faith is tested, and, if we do, faith will be rewarded with grace in this world and eternal life in the next, just as the Canaanite woman held on and her faith was rewarded with the very things that she had asked for.

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