Today’s Gospel is a very interesting one. And I say that in the sense that it is often the kind of Gospel reading that gets people riled up. Because we can probably agree that this vignette portrays Jesus in a rather unflattering light. Was he really going to snub this poor woman’s request? Was he really going to let the child be tormented by a demon?
I actually think that this is a good day on which to grapple with this Gospel and the issue of faith it brings up, because today, we have the great privilege of initiating these, our brothers and sisters, into the faith. Over the past many months, they have been preparing for initiation by studying the faith and praying for God’s mercy. Today, we have the great joy of seeing them baptized, confirmed, and receiving their first Eucharist. This was supposed to have happened at the Easter Vigil this year, but a pandemic delayed the joy. But even a pandemic is no match for God’s mercy, today we will fulfill for them the promise that God calls us all to be part of his Church, and members of Christ’s body.
So first of all, let’s just agree that Jesus was always going to help the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Probably even before the Canaanite woman asked. He’s God, after all, and he knows our needs. He always wants the best for the ones he has created. So some might tell you that this whole interaction was just to test the woman. Well, that might be comforting if you love a God who has nothing better to do than test us and make us dance for him. But that’s not our God.
Instead, I think he wanted the Canaanite woman’s faith to be noted by the people looking on, including the disciples, and perhaps even by the woman herself. Probably the only one who was sure of the woman’s faith in this story was Jesus. Now, the Canaanites were a people that were presumed to be faithless and have no claim on the grace and mercy of God (as if any of us do!). The Canaanites were the inhabitants of the Promised Land, which was given to the Israelites after being led out of Egypt by Moses. So the disdain for them was long-standing by this point.
But Jesus notes her faith as opposed to the faith noted elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel. In just a couple of chapters from now, Jesus will berate the “faithless generation” that included the scribes and Pharisees. And just last week, Jesus chastised Peter for being “of little faith” when he pulled him up out of the water. Contrast that with what he says about the Canaanite woman: “O woman, great is your faith!”
All of this begs the question for us: where are we on the journey of faith? For most of us, it probably depends on the day. But are we bold enough of faith to implore God’s mercy when we have no claim on it? When our sins have been dragging us down and we’ve been committing the same ones over and over? When we aren’t where we think we should be in our lives? When we feel like we’ve disappointed almost everyone? When we’ve disappointed ourselves?
In those moments, are we of enough faith to call on the Lord and implore his mercy? Because if we are, God is ready to answer us.