Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Importance Of Imitating the Canaanite Woman

Robin Williams, 1951-2014.

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on August 17, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Matthew 15: 21-28.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twentieth Sunday 2014]

“And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”

That was the final result of an encounter that Jesus had with a Canaanite woman one day during his earthly ministry.  We just heard about that encounter in today’s gospel story from Matthew 15.

The result is clear—crystal clear—because it’s explicitly stated.

But there were a number of decisions this Canaanite woman made along the way which led to the final result.  Those decisions are probably not so clear to us simply because they’re not explicitly listed in the text.
But they are there!

The reason I mention this in my homily today is because the final result—the deliverance of this woman’s daughter from the demon who was tormenting her—would not have occurred if these decisions had NOT been made!

Leave out one of them—any one of them—and her prayer for her daughter would NOT have been answered.

That means the last line of the story would not be the line I read to you a few moments ago.  The last line of the story would be, “And the woman’s daughter was not healed, but she continued to be troubled by this terrible demon.”

Or something along those lines.

So what were the decisions this woman made which resulted in her daughter’s deliverance and healing?

Well, first of all, she made the decision to believe that Jesus could help her.  And she probably made that decision because she had already made the prior decision to believe the things that people had told her about our Lord!

How did this woman know that Jesus had the power to work miracles?  Well, in all likelihood it was because people she was acquainted with—her relatives and friends perhaps—had witnessed to her, and had shared with her how Jesus had healed and delivered lots of other people in lots of other places.

She then made the decision to seek Jesus out: to pursue him and to find him.  It wasn’t enough to make the decision to believe that he could do something to help her and her daughter; she also had to make the decision to actually go to him to get the help she required!

Then she needed to make the decision to open her mouth and call out to our Lord.  Had she remained silent, in all likelihood, Jesus would have just continued to walk by and she might never have seen him again.

Then when he didn’t respond to her immediately, she had to decide to disregard his silence (as well as his subsequent remark about being sent only to the Jewish people and not to Gentiles like her).
After that she had to make the decision to continue to call out to our Lord.  At the same time she had to decide to disregard the annoyed (and rather insensitive) disciples who just wanted her to go away.

Notice that Jesus never told her to go away.

And she didn’t.  Rather, she kept on making the right decisions!

She obviously discerned that Jesus was more than just a descendant of King David, because we’re told that at that point “she came and did him homage” and she called him “Lord.”

She obviously decided that he was worthy of her worship.  But even at that point in the encounter she was tested when Jesus responded to her homage with his famous remark, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Some Scripture scholars insist that Jesus made this remark to the woman in a lighthearted way and with a smile on his face, with the intention of bringing her to a deeper level of faith.

That explanation actually does make a lot of sense, especially since the Greek word for dogs that’s used here means “pet dogs” and not “wild street dogs” (and it was the wild street dogs that were looked upon with disdain in ancient Israel).  But even so, there are times when you can say things like this to another person in a lighthearted way, and the person will still get offended and upset!  Just because you MAKE a remark in a lighthearted way doesn’t mean that the remark WILL BE RECEIVED in a lighthearted way!

This means that the Canaanite woman had to decide at that precise moment to disregard any negative emotions she might have been feeling toward Jesus after our Lord spoke these words to her!

She had to put those out of her mind; she had to banish them from her heart.  Then she had to decide to humble herself, and not give up, and express her faith one more time in the cleverest way she could: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

And THEN—FINALLY!—the Lord answered her prayer and said yes to her request.

Now I’m not sure if you were counting, but the fact of the matter is I just shared with you about a dozen decisions this woman made which were absolutely necessary for her to make in order to get her daughter healed.

The application of all this to us should be obvious:

When God doesn’t do what we think he should do, in the precise way and at the precise time that we think he should do it; when God doesn’t answer our prayers with an immediate “yes”; when things continue to go wrong even when we’re praying and trying to do everything right—it’s easy to throw in the towel (so to speak) and give up.

At those moments it would be good for us to remember this Canaanite woman—and to imitate her decisions:

Her decision to believe that Jesus could help her;
Her decision to believe the incredible things that others had told her about Jesus;
Her decision to seek Jesus out—to pursue him;
Her decision to call out to him, even though she initially experienced only silence in return;
Her decision to continue calling out to the Lord;
Her decision to disregard the discouraging voices of some of the people around her (who should have been encouraging her!);
Her decision to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ; her decision to humble herself; and her decision to continue to express her faith as well as she could!

I can’t helped but think that Robin Williams (God rest his soul) would have dealt with his trial very differently if he had imitated this Canaanite woman in his struggle with depression.  

Now let’s be clear about it, persevering faith doesn’t necessarily prevent a person from becoming clinically depressed.  (I’m sure we’ve all known people of deep faith who have suffered with depression.)

But having a persevering does affect how a person deals with the situation.
That’s because persevering faith gives a person a perspective on life that no therapy or medication can give (although very often therapy and medication are also necessary to deal with the problem).

I was reminded of this when I read an article a few days ago on the Lifeteen website—an article that I shared with the teenagers at youth group this past Thursday.  It was written by a Catholic young man named Thomas Grant, who has struggled with depression for many years.  In the article Thomas said that a key moment for him in overcoming his silence about what he was going through occurred when he had a conversation with a priest who helped him to understand that (and here I quote Thomas): “I am not depression.  I am the son of the King.  Even in darkness, he carries me.”

That’s the bigger perspective that faith in Jesus Christ gives to a person.  And that’s why Thomas gives this advice to other young people at the end of his article:

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide, talk to an adult you can trust that is close to you. Speak with your youth minister, your parents, your priest. They can help steer you in the right directions. It may involve counseling and that’s okay. It may involve some lifestyle changes and that is okay. Jesus walks with us through all of that. Even in our darkest moments, Christ is there, calling us out of silence and into life.
You deserve that. Never let anyone tell you any differently. You were made for life.

Whether he realizes it or not, Thomas Grant is dealing successfully with his depression because he is imitating the Canaanite woman in her persevering and unwavering faith.

May God help all of us to do the same thing and follow the example of this great woman—even if we’re blessed to be perfectly healthy at the present time.