A challenge to mediocre faith MATTHEW 15:21–28
By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
In today’s gospel reading Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman challenges racism, xenophobia, and bigotry of any kind, which often remain hidden under the guise of national, racial, or political pride and even religious self-righteousness.
The Canaanite woman knew that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and that He had the power to cast out an evil spirit from her daughter. She addresses Him by name—right down to His lineage. “Sir, son of David, take pity on me” (Matt 15:22). She shouts and pleads, but Jesus is silent and appears to be ignoring her.
At times we may find ourselves shouting in desperation like the Canaanite woman, asking the Lord for help and receiving the silent treatment. We wonder if He hears us.
The silent treatment may be an opportunity for us to have the eyes to see. We may be unrepentant about the ways we have hurt our relationship with God and others.
We may be puffed up with spiritual pride and have a feeling of entitlement. At times, the silent treatment is the Spirit of the Lord quietly at work in us leading and guiding.
We are moved to study His Word, do some soul searching, are brought into a spirit of repentance, and are guided into becoming more faithful and obedient.
The disciples plead with Jesus to let the woman have what she wants. Her behaviour is an embarrassment to them.
Jesus does not hasten to action. Instead He says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). Imagine her disappointment in hearing that she is being rejected by the Messiah because of an accident of birth and not belonging to the right group.
We remember that Jesus too faced a rejection from His own people that He had come to save. “He came unto his own and his own received him not” (Jn 1:11–13).
The woman is persistent. She comes closer to Jesus, kneels at His feet, and begs. He responds that it is not fair to take the Jewish people’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.
What a moment of absolute humiliation. We can empathise with the woman as there may have been a time when we were humiliated in our asking. We might not have forgiven the person to this day. In that case we pray for the humility of the Canaanite woman and the grace to forgive.
The woman is quick-witted and undeterred in her response “…even the house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table” (Matt 15:27). Her depth of humility and faith moves Jesus away from remaining fixed in His position.
Sometimes we might be tempted to treat our enemies or others poorly based on personal experience, family history, race, religion, creed, or political affiliations, but what does faith tell us?
Jesus knew being the Jewish Messiah did not set the precedent for His actions; His identity as Son meant acting from a place of mercy and love to all peoples. He grants the woman her wish as He tells her “You have great faith. Let your wish be granted” (Matt 15:28). Notice the word ‘great’. Let us not settle for a mediocre faith.
God has a salvific plan for all of humanity. Faith has no colour, creed, race, or political party card. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray…seek my face…turn from their wicked ways…I will hear from heaven…forgive their sin…and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:14). What a promise from God the Father to His people in the land of the Trinity.
Examen: Is it true for me that having faith and being faithful is about a repentant heart and a spirit of obedience?
Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, and a founding member of Prayer Rhythms for Change – a prayer and social action group at St Dominic’s RC Church, Morvant.