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Unshakable Faith

The word “we” and “ours” have two translations in the Pilipino language, which have a far-reaching consequences in human relationships.  The word “we” can mean “tayo” or “kami.”  If I say “tayo” – you are included.  If I say “kami,” it means “we” and you are not included.  Same with “atin,” meaning “ours” including you, and “amin” – excluding you.

As children we have “barkada” or gangs, which are often exclusive.  We have certain exclusiveness among the people we go around with.  We told people, who wanted to join us by saying “kami-kami lang ‘yan.” (It’s only among ourselves.  You are not included.)   This carries to our adulthood in fraternities, street-gang memberships, social clubs, and exclusive neighborhood associations.  You need a gate pass to go through the neighborhood, “para sa amin lang ‘yan” (for ourselves only).

The first Christians were Jews, and some of them believed that only Jews could be Christians.  Today’s Gospel was preached in the early Church to correct this attitude of exclusiveness.

The Canaanite woman is non-Jewish.  Yet Jesus made a miracle in her favor because of her great faith.   And so for us, whatever our sinfulness and our religious situation, we can obtain anything from Christ if we have enough faith.

So to better appreciate the Gospel passage, let look at the characters involved.  First, let us look at the disciples and the Jews in general; secondly, the Canaanite woman; and finally, Jesus.

First, the disciples, who were Jews – with their religious background, they considered themselves as the “chosen people” of God.  The non-Jews were excluded from the mercy of God, from salvation. 

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The reason why the people at the synagogue in Nazareth tried to kill Jesus was because Jesus insinuated that God chose the pagans over the Jews for His miracles by giving the examples of the widow of Zarephath, and Naaman, the Syrian.

Today’s Gospel passage is another significant event by which Jesus shows that God’s love and mercy is all embracing.  No one is outside the embrace of God’s love.

Secondly, we look at the Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites were the enemies of the Jews since the time of Abraham in the Old Testament.  There was a conflict between Jews and Canaanites.  The Jews were the chosen people of God, and the Canaanites were the sinful people to be exterminated.

But the Canaanite woman had love.  She made the misery of her child her own.  It was a mother’s love, which drove her to approach this Jewish stranger, made her accept his silent rejection and yet still continued her appeal.  It was her love, which made her see the compassion

beyond the harsh words of Jesus. 

The driving force of this woman’s heart was love; and there is nothing stronger and nothing nearer God than love.  In addition, the Canaanite woman was a woman of strong faith.  Her faith grew with contact with Jesus. 

She began by calling Jesus Son of David, a political title.  She came asking a favor from a powerful wonder-worker, from a great and powerful man.  She ended by calling him Lord.

Some people do not really believe in prayer.  They have only the feeling that something might just possibly happen, and they do not want to miss a chance. With this woman, Jesus was not just a possible helper.  He was her only hope. 

This woman had the only supremely effective quality in prayer – she was deadly serious.  Prayer for her was no ritual; it was the outpouring of the passionate heart, which cannot take “no” for an answer.

Finally we turn to Jesus.  Jesus had retired to the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon, when the Canaanite woman approached him. It seems that Jesus went to this pagan territory to meet this pagan woman. 

Although Jesus’ initial reaction to her pleas was harsh, and quite inconsistent with the kind compassionate Jesus we know, but consistent with the typical Jewish attitude:  First, he ignored her saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), then rejected her by saying, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:26).  

But the pagan woman has unshakable faith.  She is ignored and humiliated.  Yet, under this almost cruel treatment she remains firm and unshakable.  True faith overcomes all difficulties and puts up with everything.

Some Scripture scholars noted that the word Jesus used for “dog” was not the pejorative word translated as “askal” or street dog, but an endearing word translated as “tuta,” a puppy or pet dog, thereby encouraging the woman to cleverly retort saying, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”  Jesus then turned around and praised the strong faith of the woman, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done as you wish.”

What can we learn from today’s Gospel reading?  Among others, two things:  First, God’s saving love is inclusive.  It seeks to embrace all peoples, all races, of all situations.  People have a tendency to be exclusive, keeping out certain groups of people, like a sealed bottle of perfume that keeps all the fragrance inside.

God’s love is like an open bottle of perfume that seeks to diffuse its fragrance far and wide.  We must learn to be like God in our love and caring for others. 

Jesus invites us to receive him in the Eucharist.  He yearns to unite to himself all who will accept him in faith.  f others are good enough for Jesus, they should be good enough for us. 

Before receiving Jesus together, we will be invited to offer each other the sign of peace.  We should offer this sign with sincerity even if we do not know the person next to us.  This sign of peace is a seal and a pledge of the fellowship and unity, which are found in our common reception of the Body of Christ.

Secondly, we can learn about faith and perseverance in prayer from the Canaanite woman.  We must not be discouraged in our prayer, when God does not give us what we want.  We know that God is not a grudging giver that any favor has to be wrestled out of His hand by novenas and magic formulas of prayer.

God loves and cares for us, and always wants to give us what is good for us.  When we don’t immediately get a “Yes” to our prayers, it may not just be because we are asking for the wrong thing, but sometimes God wants our faith to grow stronger. 

He wants us to show our trust in Him in spite of the delay.  He doesn’t mind when we make “kulit,” especially when our pestering is driven by our love and concern for others.

Let us close with this inscription found on the cellar walls of a bombed-out house in Cologne, Germany during the Second World War.  Fugitive Jews, who used the basement to hide from the Nazis, had apparently written it there.

The inscription read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I feel it not. I believe in God even when he is silent.”

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