Prosperity Can Lead Society Down Wrong Path by Rev. John De Celles
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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.
Our country's incredible commercial development has led to great prosperity. Unfortunately, this affluence has led to a culture which tends toward materialism and decadence. In the first century, the cities of Tyre and Sidon were very much like we are today. Both were commercially prosperous port cities, but also plagued by materialism and moral corruption.
In one way, however, Tyre and Sidon were distinctly different from our culture: they were Canaanite cities and were not founded, as we were, on faith in the fundamental truths revealed by God to Israel and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They had no true faith to guide their lives, to elevate their desires from the material to the eternal.
This is the background of the woman in today's Gospel text - the "Canaanite woman of that district" of Tyre and Sidon - and for Jesus' interaction with her. But it also forms the background for the woman's problem: she comes to Jesus because her daughter is "tormented by a demon."
Since "the beginning" in the Garden of Eden, when Satan, confused Adam and Eve about the many good things God had given them - we might say the "original prosperity" - the demons have continuously worked to confuse man about the good things of the world. Prosperous societies have been an especially fertile ground for their work, as demons prey on man's fallen nature to corrupt our natural desire for good things into a lust for decadence.
And so, the Canaanite's daughter, living in a world of both prosperity and decadence, was tormented by demons. Is she so different than our children today? Raised in a culture so open to corruption and temptation, are we so naive as to think that they are not also the targets of the demons? Not only those who willfully expose themselves to demons (e.g., fascination with the occult and witchcraft) but also those who are simply constantly exposed to the culture and the demons who prey on their innocence.
How can we live in this age of prosperity without succumbing to decadence? How can we fight the temptations and confusion of demons? The answer: faith in Jesus Christ.
When the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus he seems to dismiss her, telling her: "I was sent only to . . . the house of Israel" - to those who have faith in the true God. But the woman neither leaves, nor disputes what he says. Instead, she proclaims her faith in Israel's God - displaying the purest form of faith, a faith rooted in humility: "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
Jesus is not being cruel to this poor woman. He has simply moved her to accept and proclaim her faith. He did this also to Martha at Lazarus' tomb: "do you believe?" and to Peer as he called him to walk on the water: "Oh you of little faith." Jesus loved Martha and Peter, and he loved this Canaanite woman. And in his love he asked them to accept the only solution to all sin and suffering: faith in Him. And so "Jesus said . . . 'O woman, great is your faith!' . . . And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour."
Ours is a great and prosperous nation, but its culture is all too corrupted by sin, especially as it increasingly rejects its foundational faith in Christ. So as we raise our children to both love our country and participate in her prosperity, we must also be aware of the temptations and the demons that thrive in this prosperity. And we must have faith in Jesus Christ and share that faith with our children, as the only protection against the confusion that corrupts prosperity into decadence.
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