As we have been reading from Matthew’s Gospel this year, we have seen various levels of faith: “lacking faith” as seen in the Jewish community, most particularly in the Pharisees and Sadducees, “little faith” as seen in the disciples, and particularly in the Twelve, and “great faith” as seen in surprising places, like in the Canaanite woman today. We’re all on different places in our faith life, and I think today’s Scriptures give us time for a quick summer check-up to see where we are in that spectrum.
Throughout our Gospel readings this past year, Jesus has run up against the religious leaders and even some of the Jewish people, those he was sent to save first, and found them seriously lacking in faith. They have heard him preach and seen his mighty deeds just like everyone else, but could not square it with what they believed, so they refused to believe in him. Maybe most disappointing to him was the lack of faith found in his own hometown. The Scriptures tell us that so lacking was their faith, that he could not do much in terms of mighty deeds while he was among them. This should not be taken to mean that their lack of faith restricted Jesus’ power. What it does mean is that whatever mighty deed he did had no effect on their faith. It’s almost as if they wouldn’t recognize a miracle if one came up and bit them in the … behind.
We have also seen Peter’s faith on display. He is kind of the spokesman for the rest of the disciples, often putting into words what they may have been too chicken to express. He was the one who proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the one who is to come. And Jesus praised him for his faith. But just a couple of verses later, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for talking about his death, at which point Jesus rebukes him for thinking as people do and not as God does. In last weekend’s Gospel, Peter was able to walk on the water when he had his eyes fixed on Jesus, but began to sink when he looked at the storm-tossed waves. Jesus pulled him out of the waves, saying “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The disciples are those men of little faith, who were with him all the time, but often missing the point. And Jesus often seems to be frustrated with their little faith and slow understanding.
In today’s Gospel, though, we have “great faith” and from a surprising source. The woman is a Canaanite, a member of the race of people who lived in the Promised Land until God gave it over to the Jews. She is an outsider, who risked her life to cross into enemy territory. She knows enough to give her daughter’s situation to Jesus. And she is persistent enough to keep asking even though she is initially rebuffed. The disciples find her so irritating, they want Jesus to send her away. But he recognizes in her what he has been thirsting to find all along: great faith. And with that great faith, she was able to return to her daughter, freed from the demon, healed from the inside out.
So we have been able to see in Matthew’s Gospel, the range of faith. From the lack of faith of the Jews and religious leaders of the time, to the little, almost fledgling faith of the disciples, to the surprisingly great faith of the Canaanite woman. This begs the question in us, I think, of where we are in the journey of faith. Have we yet to begin, or worse, have we refused to begin? Do we hope our mere physical presence at Mass will be good enough? Do we hear the word of God but refuse to let it sink in, to travel from our brain into our hearts? Have we heard the Gospel but been very lax about living it? Do we come to Mass only to leave this holy place and become a very different person in the parking lot, or in our homes, businesses and schools in the week ahead? Do we find ourselves as lacking in faith as the Pharisees and Sadducees?
Or are we tentative in our faith? Are we among those who want to believe, but are afraid to take a leap of faith? Do we walk on water for a while until we notice the storms of our lives and then sink? Are we discouraged by what seems to be a lack of response to our prayers? Are we angry with God because of something that happened – or didn’t happen – in the past? Do we think it’s okay to miss Mass because we can worship just as well by taking a walk outside or spending time with our family? Are we hesitant to pray about something because we think it’s too big for God to handle, or too little to bother him about? Have we been looking for excuses to avoid something we know is God’s call in our life? Have we been of “little faith?”
Maybe we have found ourselves in one or the other of those places in the faith journey at different points in our lives. But maybe too – I hope – we have found ourselves on more solid faithful ground. Maybe we have taken a leap of faith and found ourselves blessed beyond our wildest imaginings. Maybe we have answered God’s call and found grace to do the things we never thought we could. Maybe we have given a problem or situation over to God and found out that in God’s time, healing came in unexpected ways. Maybe we have been surprised by our faith from time to time and heard God say, “Great is your faith!”
Like I said, I think many of us are in all of these places at different times of our lives. And that’s okay, okay as long as we make a little progress all the time, as long as we eventually find our faith taking us places we never thought we would go. The life of faith is full of surprises, most of them good, some of them challenging or possibly even disheartening. But when we approach it all in faith, all of it will work out for good in God’s own time. When we give our lives to God, when we take the leap we know God is calling us to take, when we get out of our boat, we might just find ourselves walking on water, or feeding thousands, blessing others and sometimes saying just the thing someone else needs to hear. All of this is God working through us, of course, all of it is because we have trusted God in some significant way.
Whether we find ourselves lacking or little in faith on some days, we must continue to work at it, giving more of ourselves to God. Because one day, we want to hear the same thing the Canaanite woman heard: “Great is your faith!”