We Cannot Judge Who Is Worthy of God’s Love

We Cannot Judge Who Is Worthy of God’s Love

Homily for the 35th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 15:21-28

V0034860 The Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman asks Christ to cure

V0034860 The Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman asks Christ to cure her daughter. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk. Etching by P. del Po after Annibale Carracci.

We don’t very often get to hear this Gospel story about the Canaanite woman, because we read it only when the late date of Pascha provides enough Sundays between Theophany and the beginning of Great Lent.  This year, Pascha falls on 17 April, so we read this Gospel today.

At first, it just seems like another parable showing the power of faith.  After all, the punch line is Jesus saying, “Woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And her daughter is instantly healed.

But when we study this little parable more closely, we see a number of details that change our ideas about its meaning.

First of all, the woman is identified as a Canaanite.  She was not a Jew; she was not one of God’s “Chosen People.”  The Canaanites were the original people of the Holy Land.  When the Israelites came from Egypt, they took over the land of Canaan, like the Europeans did to the American Indians.

Second, Jesus and His disciples did not want to deal with this woman.  She was not one of their people; she belonged to a minority group that had no rights.  Jesus says clearly, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Third, the woman shows her faith by starting a discussion with Jesus.  She knows and believes that He can help her by healing her daughter.  God has put into her heart a strong faith.  So she asks for help again, and Jesus answers in a very arrogant way that it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs—that is, the Hebrews are God’s children and the Canaanites are like dogs.  But she argues that even the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table—in other words, even if Jesus’ main mission is to the Hebrews, God’s love and power are so great that Jesus’ mercy can be extended to other people, too.  Jesus recognizes that this is true and rewards her faith.  But His response is more than just helping one person; His response reveals His true mission, which is the salvation of all people.  All they have to do is believe.

So there are two good lessons for us here.  One is that we must have faith—deep, patient, persistent faith that is shown in our lives.  The second is that we cannot judge who is worthy of God’s love and mercy.  We have a tendency to exclude various groups from the Church and from God’s love—usually people who are different from us physically or culturally or politically.  But Jesus extended His mercy to the Canaanite woman and to all humanity.  We must try to follow His example, and we must always give thanks and praise and glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever and to ages of ages.  Amen.

Father James Graham

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