The Readings for the 18th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”Matthew 15:22
THIS PERICOPE always intrigues me: there’s no Canaan. There’s no province of Canaan, there’s no area of Jesus’ world with this name. How do we get a Canaanite Woman?
One possibility is that Matthew is wrong here. Many outside the Church (and some inside, tbh) would love for that to be the case. We could then just ignore things as we felt like it. See: this Gospel has errors. That’s not a path I want to take, but we should acknowledge this mention of an ahistorical “Canaanite” opens up that question.
Remembering that Matthew was writing his Gospel to a primarily Jewish community, then two other possibilities arise for our meditation.
The Church has had lots of chances to change something that was “wrong” in Matthew’s Text. Other Gospels refer to her as a “Syrophoenician Woman“. The Church has refused to harmonize this passage meaning that this is something we should consider as is, not “as an error”. I mentioned a few posts ago that the medical term for being uncircumcised was a slang term for Gentiles among some Jews with whom Paul was talking. Paul condescended to use the vulgar term to say circumcision does not matter anymore. Is it possible that, among the Jews to whom Matthew was writing, “Canaanite” was a slang term for Gentiles living in the geographical area of Israel? (Interestingly, it was also a term used for supporters of what we now call “Zionism” at the beginning of the 20th Century.) I’ve no way to check on that idea, but hold that in thought for a moment: I don’t want that to be the real meditation today, but it does add an interesting, spicy take to my point that follows:
Could Matthew have been making a point that Jesus came not just for Jews but for everyone? This was a point of contention in the earliest days of the Church, of course. Should Gentiles become Jews first before they can follow the Messiah? The Church’s answer was a profound no. It seems one way to read this passage is to see the Apostles (Jews) saying “send her away, she’s annoying”. Then Matthew’s text allows Jesus to show he is, at heart, a Dominican, by making a pun: “Canaanite” “dog”. Get it?
Jesus seemingly rebuffs her in order, the Fathers all agree in saying, to provoke the cry of faith from her: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her act of faith saved her and her daughter, as well as the Apostles and us.
That is the second point for meditation today: what seemingly negative things in your life are being allowed by God in order to provoke a cry of faith from you? I’m coughing from Covid right now. I can’t begin to understand how this thing has come to pass – not to me – but to all of us. What Was God doing in 2019 and 2020 when all this started? Among other things was he provoking a cry of faith from us?
Do you remember the Urbi & Orbi blessing that Pope Francis gave at the beginning of the Lockdowns? A blessing for the City and the World. I watched it live in my basement apartment, moved profoundly by the Holy Father’s act of Faith, giving the world a blessing as only the Vicar of Christ on Earth can do: leading the entire world in an act of spiritual warfare, a cry of faith. The entire world… we are never told what might have been if that action had not been taken. I believe profoundly that the world was changed that night and the plague was stopped. That was a miracle.
By an act of faith. But it was most important that it be done publically, out loud, as it were with all the police cars sounding their sirens as the Sacred Host was raised in blessing. The Holy Father’s act of faith saved all of us.
St Paul makes the point that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. There is only one good: union with the Lord. So all things, accepted with the cry of faith, can draw us closer to God. The Canaanite woman shows how her faith grows: she goes from call out to Jesus from a distance to drawing close and worshipping him. Sometimes that thing that seems like a no from God can really be a yes if we but see the opening to ask correctly.
The third point for our meditation is why? What is the need for your cry of faith? Is it primarily for you or is it for others?
Why are you being provoked by something negative in your life to cry out in faith to God? You may never know. You may be a change needed in the whole world. You may be a story for future Christians to read. You may be the inspiration of others who are sick as well.
Your act of faith never saves only you.