“Jesus said to her in reply: O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15:27

Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel story can be seen as an expression of God’s love for everyone, without distinction. The interesting thing about this story is that the woman in question was a pagan; yet she had great faith. So great was her faith that Jesus held her up as an example to His disciples.

The Canaanite woman was certainly different. Since she was a pagan, she was shunned, not only by the Jews, but also by the apostles who wanted Jesus to get rid of her. But, Jesus did not get rid of her. He accepted her and paid tribute to her great faith which was rewarded with the healing of her daughter. How surprised and stunned the disciples must have been to witness this miracle! Another one of their prejudices had gone up in smoke.

Faith is a gift. It does not come of our own volition or even from our own experience. It comes from God, and, like love, it goes wherever it is sent. It goes wherever God wills it to go. It is more mysterious than the wind or the rain that come and go as they please for the benefit of all without distinction. Yet, faith cannot be had without experience, and, for the Canaanite woman, Jesus provided her with a real faith experience. This experience of faith is available to all of God’s children whenever they open themselves up to His presence, especially in the Scriptures.

Since God is the source of our faith, we must be careful not to discriminate against others the way the disciples, initially, rejected the Canaanite woman. Think for a moment of your five best friends. List them in your mind. How many of them come from the same racial background as you; have a similar type of education; make the same salary, and are about your age? If you are like most people, you will find it easiest to relate to people who are like you. It is very human to be more at home with those who share your traditions and background.

Today’s lesson is that people have to work hard at being Christian for it means going outside your comfort zone and discovering that, differences aside, we are all God’s children. The Jews, and indeed the disciples found this a bitter pill to swallow. So, of course, do we. If you have any doubt about this, try substituting Muslim for Canaanite in today’s Gospel story. Jesus does not look at appearances but at the individual whom he calls by name.

The truth of the matter is that God loves all his children: Capitalists and Communists, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims. He wants us all to get along and we won’t get along with each other if we keep raising barriers. If we put God’s will, not man’s will, at the center of our relationships we can learn to get along.

Every time we try to get along with someone who is “different” we give credence to our belief that God is our Father, we are his children, and Jesus is the way.

Fr. Hugh Duffy

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