Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday in Great Lent (Knanaitho / Canaanite Woman)

Sermon / Homily on Matthew 15: 21-28

Healing of the Cananite Woman's Daughter

by Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew

Gospel: St. Matthew 15: 21-28

By now, we have been reminded that the gospels for the Sundays of Great Lent tell stories of various miracles of healing, and connections have been made between these healings and our own need for healing. On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, holy Church offers for our consideration the story of the healing of a Canaanite woman's daughter (Mt. 15.21-28). Seeking the deliverance of her daughter from the oppression of demons, she boldly sought out Christ, addressing him: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed" (v. 22). The condition for any healing is revealed in this statement: she knew what the problem was, how serious it was, and what needed to happen in order for it to improve.

She wasn't too proud or ashamed to admit the problem in front of others, but laid it out honestly before Jesus, his disciples, and possibly the other bystanders. For a woman -- a pagan, Gentile woman at that -- to boldly address a Jew like this required guts, for she was challenging the social structures and ideas of her time. As a Canaanite, it was probably scandalous to her own people for her to address a Jewish man as "Lord" and "Son of David", implicitly showing her acceptance of the faith of the Jews as opposed to their own gods. She should have first sought the help of her own gods, priests, and people to deal with the issue, and if her daughter was still possessed by demons, she should've just accepted her fate, quit complaining, and been "a good little girl". What gave her the right to do anything more, to think outside the box, to get creative in looking for solutions? Her own people probably gave up on her in disgust.

Her seeking out of Jesus was also scandalous to the disciples and other Jews, who wanted nothing to do with pagan Gentiles, male or female. They could care less what happened to "those others". If this lady's daughter was demon-possessed, it was probably her own fault and she deserved it. Why should she bother them with her problems and pretend as if she had the same faith as them to get what she wanted? It was, therefore, easy for the disciples to urge Jesus to "send her away" (v. 23), to get rid of her. She annoyed them, and she was a challenge to their preconceived ideas and way of life, and needed to be eliminated so that "normal" life could go on. Even Jesus is silent, answering her "not a word" (v. 23). It seemed like the whole world was against her.

At this point, the average person would take the hint and disappear, suffering quietly on one's own, and the whole world would be happy not to have to deal with her problem, and with the problem she herself became to them. But that's not what the Canaanite woman does. In the face of all this opposition, she becomes even more insistent on being heard and being healed. Christ repudiates her three times, once by silence, and twice by increasingly antagonistic statements. She responds three times, first by continuing her pleas, then by being more direct and to the point--"Lord, help me!" (v. 25)--and finally by being bold enough to answer him back in a way that at once matches the force of his last statement while humbling herself even further. And Christ, seeing her faith, praises it publicly before Jews and Gentiles, and from a distance casts out the demons oppressing her daughter.

After this, we never hear from the woman again. Jesus doesn't call her to follow him, and she doesn't become a public disciple of Jesus as other women did. The Jews are not convinced by Jesus' testimony to accept her as one of their own. The Canaanites are probably furious that this lady left their fold and found healing from someone else and have possibly shunned her. She probably paid a heavy price for seeking healing for her daughter, a heavy price that she (and her daughter) likely paid until death: the penalty of isolation, of prejudgment, misunderstanding, and condemnation, of abandonment, and so on. If she had simply accepted her fate and been "a good girl", no one would've had a problem with her--they may even have felt compassion for her. But she sought healing above all. Why?

Those whom our Lord healed had one thing in common: they knew exactly what was wrong with them. There was, for them, no shame in admitting they had a problem, identifying it, facing it, and accepting their need for help in order to recover and become whole again. Even when society ganged up against them to keep them down and prevent them from being healed so that it didn't upset their social structures or preconceived notions of "what life is like", they had the courage to step forward and seek their healing even more boldly because they knew that, in their current condition, they were broken. Whatever anyone else had to say about their life, they knew no one else could understand what was wrong with them the way they themselves could, living it from the inside; they knew something was horribly wrong and needed to be fixed. By becoming whole again, they were becoming who God created them to be, and in so doing (or rather, in so being), their lives would be improved. And if their lives were improved, they could become vehicles for healing and helping others. But even if they were shunned or ignored, the very fact that they were restored to some degree to the condition God intended for them was enough for them to keep going, cooperating with God and living life hand in hand with him. Healing wasn't the answer to all their problems--in fact, it often brought other problems--but it was the solution to the one problem which prevented them from realizing their "infinite potentiality".

The stories of healing we hear during the Sundays of Great Lent are a challenge to our complacency. They urge us to consider in these days of prayer and reflection where and to what degree we are broken and in need of healing, but not only that. They also challenge us to be bold, be creative, be daring, be courageous, and be with Jesus in seeking healing and restoration, no matter what the cost, because the stakes are too high.

See Also:

Faith of the Canaanite Woman
by Fr. Andrew

The Perseverance of Faith - Matthew 15:28
by Charles H. Spurgeon

Yelping Puppies, The Canaanite Woman
by Pastor Edward F. Markquart

Crumbs from the Master's Table
by Hubert Beck

God of Mongrels
by the Rev. Dr. Gail Ricciuti

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 4th Sunday in Great Lent (Canaanite Woman)

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