O Woman, Great is Your Faith
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Jesus expects a great deal from His disciples. It is one reason that He is so attractive to me. He loves us and respects us enough to expect great faith from us. Jesus wants us to be either hot or cold, not lukewarm, otherwise He will spew us out. He expects our faith to be able to move mountains. When Peter only managed to walk a short distance on the Sea of Galilee before he began to sink, Jesus chastised him, “O, ye of little faith!”
The great challenge in today’s Gospel is directed to a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, a religious outsider. Our Lord is uncharacteristically tough with this woman who approaches Him with humility and a heartfelt request: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
Jesus is usually rather receptive of those who come to Him revealing a humble spirit and a real trust in His power to do something for the sick. He usually sees, appreciates and rewards such faith with the forgiveness of sins and a miraculous healing. Not so with this Canaanite woman, at least at the start of this encounter.
In fact, Jesus rebukes this woman three times. First, He ignores her completely and does not respond to her. Then, after the disciples suggest to send her away, Jesus retorts to her that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She is unfazed by this second rebuke and His reference to the fact that she is a Gentile. So, she begs again for assistance, “Lord, help me.” The Lord comes back with His final rebuke: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She responds again with deep faith, only asking for a morsel, “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her faith and her perseverance are remarkable.
This time the Lord praises her strong faith and bestows His healing grace upon her daughter: “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus offers this complement to few people in the Gospels. He was truly pleased with her trust in Him.
We learn from this woman and her encounter with Jesus that our Lord desires our faith in Him to be real and deep. He is not at all content with faith that is shallow, fickle or unable to endure trials.
Furthermore, we learn that Jesus is not afraid to test our faith. Christian faith is like gold that needs to be purified. Gold becomes precious when it is refined numerous times in fire. In His great wisdom, God knows when to test our faith so as to purify and strengthen it and when to pour out His mercy and life-giving grace. As a loving parent who desires that we be united with Him in faith and love for all eternity, God our Father is the Master of determining what we need and when we need it.
A modern day example of today’s Gospel is found in the life of Saint John Paul II. His profound faith in God was forged in the midst of extreme human suffering from his earliest years. He lost his mother, Emilia, at the tender age of 8, his older brother and only living sibling, Edmund, at the age of 12, and his father, Karol, at the age of 20. On top of losing his family, he had to navigate the cruel occupation of the Germans during World War II and the oppressive weight of communist Russian rule that quickly followed. Out of the remains of such pain and torment rose a man of amazing faith in Christ whose life deeply impacted over a billion Catholics and countless other men and women of good will around the world.
Jesus expects a great deal from His disciples. He loves and respects us enough to expect great faith from us. He never abandons us, but always remains by our side. I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.
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