Sunday, August 17, 2014

Matthew 15:21-28: In Faith and Humility, All are Welcome at the Table of Grace

The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28 NRSV)

In the USCCB commentary video on the above scriptural passage, Fr. Joe Pisaneschi pinpoints the meaning of this gospel reading, and he is not afraid to call out those who lean on their works to justify themselves as righteous. Yes, many Catholics, including myself, tend to rely on our participation in the Sacraments, attendance at Mass, wearing of sacramentals, and devotional prayers as a means to earning God's favor. In doing this, we indirectly tend to place ourselves above others. 

The disciples were no different, for they followed the Master and knew Him personally. The first-century Jews, then, ostracized the gentiles, looking down upon them.  For example, the children of Israel readily referred to the gentiles as "dogs," a dehumanizing term that implied Jewish supremacy.  In the Scripture passage above, even the disciples, Jesus' chosen students, command Jesus to send the pleading gentile woman away, implying that only the disciples are worthy of Jesus' love and saving miracles. Interestingly, however, Jesus, calculating the crowd's response, plays into the haughty mind of the first-century Jewish population, for our Lord says He was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  These words were aimed as much at the gentile woman as they were the observing Jews. 

Humility and an honest, loving heart are the core of genuine faith in Jesus Christ (see commentary on Hosea 6:6, Matthew 12:7). The gentile woman, in her humility, pleads a third time and is happy with the simple nourishing crumbs that fall from the table of grace. This woman is not, like the rebuking disciples, a child of Abraham and cannot claim the covenantal right to Jesus' healing grace. Jesus replies, however, by answering this outsider's prayer and instantly healing her daughter.  

Christ offers his healing grace not because we have a right to it, not because we earn it, and not because we flaunt our faith tradition.  Our Lord offers his love and healing to all who sincerely persist in seeking his love, but we must seek Jesus with a humble, repentant heart.  It is clear in Matthew's gospel that Jesus offers salvation and healing to those who humble themselves and have great faith, no matter their background, sins, or present social branding. In faith and humility, all are welcome at the table of God's healing grace.