Persistence. I am so struck by the Canaanite Woman’s tenacity. So great must her love be for her daughter that she pursues Jesus, the Ultimate Healer, refuses to back down, and even has the audacity to contradict Jesus. It appears from Matthew’s Gospel today that this Woman will stop at nothing to help her daughter. She asks for Jesus’ help three times. The first time, Jesus remains silent. The second time, Jesus states “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The third time, Jesus praises the Woman’s faith and grants her request. The Canaanite Woman’s persistence and faith inspire me.
When we ourselves feel pain, we stop at nothing to address the issue, to secure the medicine, to seek out a doctor, to cure our ailment. How far will we go to advance our own interests, our own needs and wants? Pretty far I’d imagine. When our loved ones feel pain, do we stop at nothing to address the issue, to secure the medicine, to seek out a doctor, to cure their ailment? How far will we go to advance their interests, their needs and wants? Pretty far I’d imagine.
When I was little, my sister Stephanie, my Mom, and I all went to get ice cream on a hot summer day. My Mom handed us a few dollars and sent my sister and I up to the counter to place our orders. We waited in line before approaching the window and were met by a crusty older gentleman. We told the man the flavors we wanted and patiently waited while he prepared the dessert. He returned and handed me an ice cream flavor I hadn’t ordered. I piped up and informed the man that I had ordered a different flavor. He snapped at me and jutted his head out through the window to scold me. My sister and I stood there, dumbstruck, being chastised by this man who clearly wasn’t in the mood to sell ice cream to children on a lovely summer day. Suddenly, I heard a loud voice behind my shoulder. “Is there a problem here?” My Mom was walking towards the commotion with fire in her eyes. “Ah, there’s no problem here,” mumbled the man, who suddenly looked diminished. My Mom marched up to the counter and stuck her head right through the window and barked: “I think there’s a problem here!” In that moment, my sister and I felt so loved, so safe, so comforted by the actions of this tremendous advocate who had protected us. As I’m sure you can imagine, this story has become basically folklore within my family at this point.
I share this story because, for me, it serves as a powerful illustration of one person rising up and advocating for the needs of her loved ones.
Jesus, the Ultimate Healer, heals the Canaanite Woman’s daughter. He casts out the tormenting demon within her and frees her of that terrible affliction. But this miraculous outcome takes work. The Canaanite Woman seeks Jesus, she calls out to Jesus, she comes and pays Jesus homage. And yet, Jesus does not grant her request. Rather than giving up, rather than losing faith, rather than getting angry and cursing Jesus, what does the Canaanite Woman do? She redoubles her effort. She asks again. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
It is easy to read the words of today’s Gospel and not appreciate what this experience must have been like for the Canaanite Woman. I want to reiterate her actions to better emphasize my point. She seeks Jesus, she calls out to Jesus, she pays Jesus homage, and she redoubles her efforts when she meets resistance.
Let me ask this question: when we face tremendous challenges in our own lives, whether it be suffering, fear, loss, depression, anxiety, or grief, are we willing to seek Jesus, to call out to Jesus, to pay Jesus homage, and to redouble our efforts when we are not answered? I am, and I bet all of you are too, but I can only speak for myself. When I am desperate, I fight that much harder.
I am not a parent, so I won’t subject all of you to my abstract—and frankly uninformed—perspective on parenting, but I do have love in my heart and relationships that are worth more to me than all the treasure in the world. That, at least, is something I’m sure we all have in common. So, with that in mind, I ask this question: when our loved ones face tremendous challenges in their lives, whether it be suffering, fear, loss, depression, anxiety, or grief, are we willing to seek Jesus on their behalf, to call out to Jesus on their behalf, to pay Jesus homage on their behalf, and to redouble our efforts when we are not answered on their behalf? I am, the Canaanite Woman was, and I bet all of you are too, but I can only speak for myself. When my loved ones suffer, I suffer. When my loved ones hurt, I hurt. When my loved ones are desperate, I fight that much harder.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with my sister about writing this reflection. I shared the basic concept with her and she said something interesting to me. “Yes, Joey, I see what you’re trying to do, but the Canaanite Woman is advocating for her daughter.” In a way, I interpreted her feedback as an acknowledgment that it may be easier to rise up to advocate for your loved ones—just like my Mom did all those years ago at the ice cream store—than it is to advocate for others. Stephanie’s comment was well taken, and ultimately, addressing it is going to be the main point of my reflection today.
It is one thing to fight for your own self-interest or for the interest of your child or loved one. But, what does it take to fight for the interest of your neighbor, or even . . . your enemy?
So, let me ask this final question: when our enemies face tremendous challenges in their lives, whether it be suffering, fear, loss, depression, anxiety, or grief . . . or when our enemies cause tremendous challenges in our lives through their ignorance, hatred, bigotry, racism, or evil acts, are we willing to seek Jesus on their behalf? Are we willing to call out to Jesus on their behalf? Are we willing to pay Jesus homage on their behalf. Are we willing to redouble our efforts when we are not answered on their behalf? Honestly, I don’t know if I am, but I can only speak for myself. When my enemies suffer, do I suffer? When my enemies hurt, do I hurt? How far does my empathy and compassion reach? How far am I willing to go to help those who hurt me? How far am I willing to go to help those who hurt my loved ones? And how far am I willing to go to help those who hurt this world?
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus rewards faith. Jesus, the Ultimate Healer, accompanies us, comforts us, and loves us without end.
Do we have enough faith to love our enemies with the same love we hold for ourselves? Do we have enough faith to love our enemies with the same love we harbor for those closest to us? Do we have enough faith to pray for this broken world, to pray for those who break it, and to redouble our efforts in the face of ever-growing threats to our peace, our safety, and our sense of wellness? Think about our country, think about our world today . . . can we fix it alone?
I can tell you one thing: I am not strong enough to heal this world. None of us are. But fortunately, we don’t have to be. Jesus, the Ultimate Healer, is here. Let us seek Jesus together. Let us call out to Jesus together. Let us pay Jesus homage together. And let us redouble our efforts when we are not initially answered together, as a community, as a Church! Ultimately, let us have faith in Him, so that perhaps one day, He will say to us: Great is your faith, let it be done for all of you as you wish! And then, by His grace, there is hope for us and hope for this world.