O Woman, Great is Your Faith by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 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." But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Jesus' response to the woman in this Sunday's Gospel appears on the surface to be unusually harsh, but in actuality it is another beautiful story of faith in Christ and His never ending mission to bless and heal those who approach Him with trust and confidence.
The story begins with a Canaanite woman, a foreigner, who calls out to Jesus, seeking healing for her daughter who was tormented by a demon. Three times Jesus responds to her in a rather puzzling way. First, He ignores her, presumably to see if she is serious about her request. Then, thwarting His disciples' attempt to whisk her away from Him, Jesus reminds her that He came first to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She perseveres in spite of this mild snub, draws close, pays Him homage and says, "Lord, help me."
Sometimes, in the Gospels, Jesus responds immediately to a request for help or healing. Sometimes He delays. Sometimes Jesus is gentle and warm with the person from the start. Sometimes He is uncharacteristically firm and distant at the start. In the end, He always offers His blessings to those who come to Him with true faith and trust.
We need to remember that Jesus knows the depths of our hearts better than we know them ourselves. He knows when a person is ready to receive a particular grace and when we need something more before we are ready. So, God is not afraid to test our faith, purify our heart or grant us the opportunity to grow in some specific way that is in union with his divine plan before He gives us what we need. He knows how to prepare our hearts so that we are ready to receive what we really need. God's wisdom and love are at times very puzzling to us, beyond our comprehension, but His actions always flow from the depths of His love and His truth.
In my own life, I remember making some intense demands on God when I was in the seminary, battling to discern my vocation as a consecrated member of Youth Apostles. I insisted at the beginning that God shape my heart and reveal His will in very specific ways.
For instance, while I was struggling to discern if God was asking me to serve Him as a consecrated priest for the rest of my life, I really wanted deep in my heart to get married. So, I tried to make a deal with God: please make me desire to be a priest more that I desire to be married, and I will be happy to follow your call. God did not respond to any of my demands, and He revealed His will for me in a completely different fashion than the one I had insisted upon. Without taking away me desire for marriage, He made it very clear that He wanted me to be a consecrated priest.
The process was immensely frustrating to me, but, in the end, God gave me exactly what I needed. I look back now, and I smile at myself and my demands while I marvel at God's wisdom and love. God knew best how to prepare me for my lifelong commitment to Him through my community and through the priesthood.
Lord God, grant us the grace we need to trust radically in your love and your divine plan for us. Give us the faith of the saints so that we may come to you with confidence, knowing that you will grant us what we truly need, when we need it. Help us to persevere, like the Canaanite woman, in courageously approaching you, even when we face obstacles along the path. May we be men and women whose lives are molded and shaped by our faith in you.
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