Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
On the 17th Sunday after Pentecost we read in the Gospel of St. Mathew about a Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. No one else has been able to help her, so she comes to Jesus and begs for His help. His response is startling. At first He ignores her. When she persists, He refers to her and the people of her country as little dogs not worthy of His blessings because they are not Jews.
Is this the same Jesus who healed all who came to Him, who raised the dead, who preached mercy, love and compassion? Is this the same Jesus who, when questioned by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was, included love for your neighbor in the answer (and in His explanation He emphasized that “neighbor” meant more than those of the Jewish faith)?
This woman was neither startled by Jesus’ words, nor did she complain about His treatment of her. Instead, she not only calls Him Lord, but she treats Him as her Lord. First she humbly accepts His reply and acknowledges that what He has said is true. She then recognizes His power and authority by asking for just the “crumbs” that He can spare, knowing that this will be sufficient to heal her daughter. Jesus acknowledges her faith and grants her request. Her daughter was healed immediately.
When we are tested by adversity, we need to approach Christ as our Lord and humbly seek His aid. When it seems that He has denied our request, it is then that we must redouble our faith, come close to Him and beg for His help just as the Canaanite woman did. In the aftermath of the terrorist’s attacks of 2001 questions such as: “How can God let this happen?” and “How could God let such a good person die?” were asked and debated over and over again. We often hear the same questions, and others expressing doubt, asked in the hospital, in the funeral home, and after Liturgy at coffee hour.
God has planned our deliverance from whatever attacks us even before the assault happens. Whatever doubts we may have, it is up to us to look upon the sweet face of Christ, who was lifted up on the cross for our sins, deny ourselves, so that our disbelief can be turned into faith, a faith that knows that even the crumbs from our Master’s table will be sufficient for all our needs.
Fr. John Haluszczak
The Rev. John Haluszczak is pastor of St. Vladimir Parish in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.