How great is our faith?

by Shiu Lan

This Sunday’s gospel reading is an account of an inspirational interaction between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, a gentile, whose persistence reminds me of a fairly common scenario that might happen in the present day. Consider an applicant, a child, who meets fully all the criteria for approval except that a precondition, perceived to be critical when the criteria were set, is not met. Nevertheless, the mother appeals passionately for her child; her effort is not wasted, the approving authority finally reviews the case of her child with compassion, equity and righteousness and her child is given an exceptional approval.

The story in the gospel reading is about a Canaanite woman who asks Jesus for mercy; her daughter is tormented by a demon. She signifies herself to Jesus as a person of faith, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (Mt 15:22). Yet Jesus does not answer her. When the disciples urge Jesus to send her away, Jesus tells her that he is sent “only” to the lost sheep of Israel (24). The woman does not give up, she kneels before Jesus and said, “Lord, help me” (25). Jesus said it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs and she replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables” (Ref 26; 27). “Woman, great is your faith!” Jesus said and heals her daughter instantly (28). Only Israel, the chosen people, has inherited right to God’s blessings. The Gentiles are unable to demand from God‘s gifts that He freely bestows; they can only lean on God’s mercy. This is so because God's plan of salvation is step by step: from one nation, Israel, to all nations when Jesus comes. The Canaanite woman recognizes her weakness before Jesus and begs for blessings; her daughter’s spiritual healing is the reward for her humility and faith (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible 35).

In the second reading, St. Paul, speaking as an Apostle to the Gentiles, cautions those “who are not Jews” must not be proud of the grace of salvation that they have received for standing by their faith while his fellow Jews do not believe (Rm 11:13; Ref 14, 18, 20). The gifts and the calling of God to Israel are irrevocable (29). He explains to them “the mysterious decree of God”, that “has submitted all to disobedience, in order to show his mercy to all” (25, 32). It is through “the rebellion of the Jews, the mercy of God came to [the Gentiles] who did not obey God. [The Jews] in turn will receive mercy in due time after this rebellion that brought God's mercy to [the Gentiles]” (30-32). God allows all to sin so that all might taste salvation; His saving plan moves forward despite men’s rebellion, “Yahweh’s new covenant will bring his people a new abundance of mercy and forgiveness” (ICSB 273 35).

Indeed, God’s mercy to the foreigners who join him and remain faithful to his covenant is foretold by Prophet Isaiah, “Yahweh says … I will bring them to my holy Mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer … for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Ref Is 56:4; 6-7).