Faith is the essence of what it means to be a Christian. Having faith is what makes the believer different from the non-believer. As followers of Jesus Christ, faith marks all that we are and do. Without it, we would just be going through the motions, doing only what had to be done to get by in life. However, with faith, we catch on fire with God’s love and become determined to live the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers us.
Since faith is such an essential element of our lives as Christians, it is important for us to pay close attention to what the pagan woman in today’s gospel reading from Matthew can teach us. There are only a few people whom Jesus commends for their great faith. She is one of them. Let us together take a close look at this passage to discover what it has to teach us about the type of faith in Jesus Christ that can heal and save us.
First of all, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith is centered in Jesus Christ. When she runs toward the disciples she is not yelling out, “Hey, one of you help me!”. She is not just looking for anyone to save her daughter. Rather, she is very specific. “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me.” She is looking for Jesus with faith that only He can heal her daughter.
Our faith has its center in Jesus Christ. It is not some vague belief that there is “something out there.” It is not just some naive hope that “everything will be alright” or that “everything happens for a reason.” Rather it is a belief rooted solidly in the person of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified, risen from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God, the Father. It is grounded in gratitude for all He did to save us and in the conviction that He knows us and loves us.
Therefore, the first lesson the Canaanite woman has for us today is that faith means seeking out Jesus and turning to Him in our need.
Secondly, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith means trusting Jesus. When she seeks out our Lord, she has a very pressing need. Her daughter was suffering torment from demons. As any good mother would, she is doing all she can to relieve her daughter’s suffering. She puts it, therefore, in Jesus’ hands. She takes what is most precious to her - the life and health of her daughter - and entrusts it into Jesus’ care.
It is vital for our own walk of faith that we entrust everything we have and are in Jesus’ hands. Whatever is most precious to us is already His gift. Every good thing we enjoy - whether they be the people we love or the things we use - came from His creative hand. God showers them all upon us to provide for our needs and enrich our lives. Sometimes we have to surrender those good things by giving them to those who are poorer than we are. Sometimes we also have to let go of the people we love. When we can do so with generosity and grace, we show that we trust that God has a plan and that He will continue to provide for us.
We see this faith particularly in parents who have lost a child. None of us could imagine a more painful experience. However, so many people who find themselves in that situation, are able to accept the death of their beloved son or daughter with faith that God has a plan and that He will make it right. Such faith does not take the pain away, but it gives us strength to carry on with patience and hope.
Thirdly, the pagan woman teaches us that faith entails overcoming our prejudices and taking risks. The woman in today’s gospel is not a Jew but a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the Holy Land before the Hebrews settled there after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. It is fair to say that the Canaanites had the same feeling for Jews that native peoples in Australia, Africa and the Americas had for their European colonial settlers. As we see in Jesus’ first response to the woman, she must have expected Him to ignore her. However, she took a risk. She overcame her fear and prejudice to take the chance that Jesus could and would help her.
The founder of the Catholic television network, EWTN, often said, “God will not do the impossible in our lives if we are unwilling to do the ridiculous.” If we want to experience the power and presence of Jesus, we have to take some risks. We have to go out of our comfort zones to find Him where He told us He would be, among the poor and the outcasts. It means speaking to people we would otherwise avoid and putting our hand on the shoulders of those we find repulsive. It means overcoming our prejudices about the poor, the homeless and immigrants. It will mean speaking out when we would rather be silent and keeping quiet when we would rather speak out. If we have real faith in Jesus, it will be tested. But that only serves to make our faith stronger and to deepen our trust in our Heavenly Father.
In conclusion, therefore, the Canaanite woman teaches us that faith is an abiding trust grounded in the person of Jesus Christ which empowers us to do the impossible. It is important for us to remember that it was not all her yelling and screaming which got Jesus’ attention. Rather it was her faith. For us, it will not be just how many Masses we’ve attended, how many rosaries we have prayed or how many novenas we have completed - as important as all that is - that will get Jesus’ attention but our willingness to turn to Him in our need, to entrust all that is precious into His hands and our ability to take risks in following Him that will unlock for us all the power that He promised to those who believe.