by Rev. Dn. Gregory Varghese
Gospel Reading: Mathew 15: 21-31
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we move through this journey towards Pascha, we must continue to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls so that through our lives, the Gospel of salvation may be proclaimed to all.
My Brothers and Sisters, we are called to leave our comfort zones, to "Forget thine own people and thy fatherís house" and become stewards of the Gospel. In the Gospel passage for this Sunday, we read the story of Jesus coming out of Judea to the district of Tyre and Sidon, and a Canaanite woman comes out and cries out to Jesus seeking mercy. During this Lenten season we remember the great sacrifice of Christ,
"who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."
We are reminded of the mission of Christ, where His "coming out" was in accordance with Godís will so that we might experience salvation. If we think from the perspective of this Canaanite, a member of a race of people that have been cast out from the presence of the Jews. This person being a woman, we must be aware of the great shame this woman had taken upon herself in order to come before Christ to make her plea. We have a duty, whether we are weak or strong, rich or poor, to find our way to Christ, who has made His journey to us a reality. It is only through the "coming out" of both Christ and this woman that this situation could have been a reality.
So, when this woman comes out and seeks mercy because an evil spirit has possessed her daughter, Christ does not utter even one word. It is a strange occurrence in the course of this Gospel that we see a non-responsive Jesus, who utters not a word when this Canaanite woman shames herself in order to come before His presence. Usually we see a Jesus who is responsive to all those who entreat Him, beseech Him, and question Him. It is definitely an interesting occurrence, but such events are utilized in order to bring the reader to attention.
The very fact an account of this nature exists in scripture, one where we see Jesus displaying ideals contrary to what we usually are accustomed to, serves to teach us a powerful lesson. The focus of Christís message is not based on this Canaanite womanís understanding, but on the understanding and faith of the disciples or the reader. Now this woman, who lowered and shamed herself, probably hearing that Jesus had healed others, is faced with rejection. If we were placed in a similar situation, and we failed to obtain that which we have worked so hard for, most would simply desist and move on. We would not realize that it is a call for perseverance, and a call to strengthen our faith.
Nevertheless, this woman displays perseverance, and she continues to follow Christ, and the Gospel says the following:
'He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."'
If silence was not enough of a deterrent, the use of such strong language by Jesus should have been a clear indication, at least to the reader, that this woman should have left His presence. When Jesus makes the statement that He was sent only for the sheep of Israel, we must ask ourselves, if this was the case, then how did we, mere Gentiles, find our way to Christ? Christ is challenging the listener, and He is calling to their attention the response of faith that would soon come from the innocent woman, who is coming to Christ only in faith and knowledge that He is the Lord.
When Christ says, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" it is the humble response of this woman that reveals the true nature and desire for Christís mercy. This woman knows she is not worthy, but she humiliates herself to a point where she responds to Jesus saying that even a dog finds its place around the masterís table. The dog takes no part in the meal, but it will receive and eat what he is able to. We must all stand in awe at the humility of this woman! Even when she is denied, she persists. Even when she is compared to a dog, she resists pride, and she lowers herself to accept her place in order to receive even a small amount of mercy from Christ. My friends, we must be able to empty ourselves of pride and any worldly thoughts so that instead, we may be filled with the love and mercy of Christ, so together with Him, we may become coworkers of the Gospel.
Jesus Christ had rejected this woman several times in order to reach the climax of this account where he exclaims, "O woman, great is your faith!" This woman is given a crown, and she has found honor in the sight of the Lord. Christ told this woman, "Be it done for you as you desire" words full of meaning but display clearly the true power of our faith in God. For in the same Gospel, two chapters later it is said by our Lord, "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."
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