10 Pentecost A 2014 Fr. Ray Kasch August 17, 2014
Lessons Is 56:1-7; Ps 67; Rom 11:13-32; St. Matt 15:21-28
I grew up in a very NON politically correct world. We used words that many today would find offensive and hurtful but it was not our intent to offend or to hurt. Mostly we understood the words that we used to be descriptive rather than insulting. For example someone who could not hear or speak in my childhood was called “deaf and dumb.” By dumb we were not thinking Jim Cary kind of dumb but the Old English meaning unable to speak. The use of that term was made popular through the King James Bible. Today of course it has taken on an entirely different meaning.
When I went to work for Family and Children’s Services in Chattanooga I was given initial training about what words were to be used and what words were to be avoided and to my surprise this was so fluid that we would receive by mail regular updates. Just when you had it down they would change it on you. Don’t say that a kid is “short” call him “proportional” etc.. Some of it made sense but some of it felt like thought police with sensitivities taken to an extreme. It hasn’t improved much. We hear with regularity of people losing their jobs over saying something that another found offensive and seems that it doesn’t take too much these days to offend.
So imagine what the thought police today would have to say about Jesus’ exchange with this Caananite woman. “Did He just call her a dog?” He would be wide open for being accused of being both racist and sexist and no doubt some would consider Him so. But let’s nip that in the bud because since we know that He was sinless and racism and sexism is sinful, then He could not, COULD NOT be either.
First if Jesus was a racist, or had a Jewish aversion to Gentiles, He would not have been in the district of Tyre and Sidon to begin with. That region is not on the way to anywhere so you only go there because you want to go there. Also that area was known as a Gentile region, so it would be like going to New York and complaining about all of the Yankees up there. Certainly we know that Jesus was smarter than that.
Second, if Jesus was truly being sexist, He would have taken His disciples advice and sent her away. In fact He could have had the disciples do that for Him so that He would not have to have contact with her at all. Given that He was a Rabbi and she was a Gentile woman that would have been the expected behavior. But instead He went against the societal expectations and ministered to her.
Okay, He was not sexist or racist but isn’t comparing her to a dog over the top, even for the Son of God? As I just mentioned, language is fluid. Think how radically words have changed in just our lifetime. Some of you grew up watching the Flintstones. Do you remember the last lines of the theme song? “ We’ll have a yabba dabba do time, a dabba so time, we’ll have a gay old time.” That is not a line that would be used in a children’s cartoon today.
My point is that if words change that much just within our lifetime I wonder if we can begin to fathom how differently words were used 2,000 years ago. Add to that the fact that Jesus came from an entirely different culture and it should make us slow to judge by placing 21 century standards on 1st century language.
It was common for Jews to refer to Gentiles as “dogs” and they did this not to put Gentiles down as much to emphasize that they were the children of God. And it is evident in the story that the woman took no offense by this expression. She used it herself to make her case.
I conclude that Jesus was not insulting her, rather He was simply making the point that charity begins at home. When Jesus tells her that charity begins at home she in essence says, “That may be true but there is nothing that says that it has to stay there.” Jesus loved her answer, commended her faith and gave her what she was seeking which was the healing of her daughter.
This is an interesting place for St. Matthew to put this story. Here Jesus is complementing a woman for her faith but one chapter earlier we see Him rebuking Peter for not having enough faith when He had to pull him out of the sea. Thus a Gentile woman is looking far better than the future Bishop of Rome, which should silence the critics who say that only the books that got into the Canon were the ones that kept women in their place.
What I take from this story is a real life metaphor for prayer. When the woman first approached Jesus the passage says, “He did not answer her a word.” Have you ever had that happen to you in prayer? You pray and pray and pray and pray and the heavens are silent. After that goes long enough you would even be happy, if like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, someone would just open up a little window from heaven and tell you to go away.
Silence is tough to take. I recall one time complaining to my spiritual director that I was getting no answers at all in my prayers and he said that sometimes God does this to remind us that what we are ultimately seeking in prayer is not answers but God Himself.
But the good news is that silence was not the final word from Jesus. Instead of sending her away, Jesus answers her, but He answers her with a challenge that in turn forces her to dig deeper.
It has been my experience with prayer that a long silence can act like a challenge and result in me taking another look at what it is I am asking for to see if I really need it. Years ago I bombarded heaven with a specific prayer request. I was like that guy in Jesus parable who knocked on the door so long that the homeowner got up and opened the door just to shut the guy up. I asked and begged and pleaded until God gave me what I asked. The problem was that I didn’t come at if from the approach of discerning God’s will. I came at it more like a spoiled kid saying “I want what I want and I want it now.” So I got what I wanted and it went very badly and almost destroyed me. Looking back I realized that I got my will but I did not get God’s will.
That was a hard lesson but it did teach me to listen for God’s challenges to my prayers and be willing to be very open-handed towards God. If we demand something of God in prayer we are in essence saying that we deserve it and we need to be REALLY careful about asking God to give us what we deserve. The reason the word “mercy” comes up so often in the liturgy is that we are asking God NOT to give us what we deserve.
I think the other reason for God’s challenges in prayer is that it gives us an opportunity to increase our faith. Faith is like a muscle, if you want it to grow it must face resistance. When you go up to a Coke machine and put the dollar bill in, you don’t have to exercise faith to get a Coke back do you? It’s an automatic exchange. But God is not like that. When we push on God, so to speak, He pushes back. This builds our faith and that is how our relationship with Him is strengthened. Think back over you life and see if the times of greatest spiritual growth for you were not associated with some of your greatest challenges.
But let me clarify something about faith, when I speak of our faith growing. I don’t mean to imply that faith is measured with a volume or quantity. In fact I think that is a dangerous way to view it because over the years I have seen people wounded from being told that they don’t have enough faith, or that their loved one was not healed because they did not have enough faith. What does that mean anyway? Were they a quart low?
What this Caananite woman shows us is that faith is a combination of tenacity and trust. She was not going to take “No” for an answer and she knew exactly who to go to.
I once heard a TV preacher tell his audience to “demand” that God answers your prayer. I would heartily disagree. He is the potter and we are the clay. Clay doesn’t make demands. I think you know that there is a difference in our hearts between being demanding and being tenacious. And we should be equally cautious about going the other way and engage in prayer without any expectations.
I once had a friend of a parishioner ask if I would do an exorcism on her home because she was having some strange manifestations. I did it and about a week later I saw her in a restaurant She came up to me all excited and said, “You won’t believe it, it worked.” And I said back to her, “No I do believe it, that is why we do it.”
When we pray we should expect an answer. We should not be passive. I have heard people add “thy will be done” to their prayers not so much to seek God’ will but as if to give God and out and to keep themselves from being disappointed if their prayer is unanswered.
We are not to pray this way. You know this from our liturgy.“And now as our Savior Christ hath taught us we are (what) to pray” The word is “bold.” This is from the Gospel according to Luke. LK 11:5 Then (Jesus) said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
LK 11:7 “Then the one inside answers, `Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Hebrews 4 says Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence (some translations say ‘boldness’) so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
If you were to approach your boss for a raise, what would be the best way to do it? “Well I don’t know if we have the money or not and you may not agree with me but I sure would like a raise if that is something you would like to do but it is entirely up to you, I leave that in your hands.” How good are your chances? That is what we do in prayer when we are passive in prayer.
On the other hand if you walked into your boss’ office and hit his desk with your fist and said, “I demand a raise” how well do you think that would be received.
But if you went in and confidently and respectfully asked for a raise that would no doubt be your best chance for getting one. That is what I see the Caananite woman modeling. Her faith was evident by her tenacity and trust and that is why she received her answer and that is how we should pray in order to see our requests answered.
Let me ask you a question. What would have happened to that little girl if her mother stopped asking? Would she have been healed? I doubt it. Is it possible that in your life right now you are stopping short of asking? If so that may be the very reason that you are not seeing answers to your prayers. Following this woman’s example, let us boldly come before the throne of grace. Amen.