This post is the second in the series that began with the reading of Mathew 14:34 to Matthew 15:20
Matthew 15: 20-28 — Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (NIV)
Earlier today I was listening to Enzo Biagi, a journalist of Italian origin who passed away in 2007. He was known for his columns in the Epoca magazine, and Il Corriere della Sera, both influential publications in Italy. I will give you a quick translation but keep in mind that the man talking was already transformed. He started as a man curious about certain manifestations of faith, interested in a “phenomenon” of his age, a Capuchin friar known as Padre Pio. During a television interview, Biagi said:
“Padre Pio believed in prayer, in the continuing presence of God in the history of man. He knew how to give hope to so many desperate people. He gave a little bit of light to those living in darkness.” [Enzo Biagi, interview for the video documentary Padre Pio, Uomo di Dio (Padre Pio, Man of God)]
Biagi’s words were still ringing in my ears when I started to write this post. The foreign woman, mentioned in Matthew 14, may have followed the group traveling with Jesus for a while. The disciples had about enough of this importunate, annoying character. Since they apparently could not shake her off, they decided to ask Jesus for some relief. They took the woman before the Lord. Once there, she pleads her case right, she begins by calling Jesus “Lord” and then “Son of David.” Then she asks for mercy and explains her problem. Her theology is impeccable, she admits Jesus as her Lord, admits his right to be Lord by using “Son of David” in recognition of his messianic mission. She does not demand anything; she begs for a grace. She is in her own country, Jesus is a Jew passing through and seeking perhaps other Jews. Yet, she completely humiliates herself before that foreigner in public.
The foreigner responds abruptly. He is there seeking Israelites he says, adding to her self-humiliation. Jesus is communicating basically that she is not one of his kind. She keeps on begging but then Jesus unloads a serious offense on her. How politically incorrect would be to do that today!
Imagine him saying: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” And yet this poor mother descends even more in her public humiliation and begs for the leftover crumbs, admitting (before people of her own nationality presumably standing there also) that she is a dog, that the Jews are her masters, begging that Jesus the Lord of the Jews throws the table crumbs, the leftovers of mercy on her, a poor nothing.
Jesus admits her faith is exceptional and grants her the grace of healing her daughter.
I assume Jesus knew beforehand that the woman was there. As usual, Christ is building a parable for the ages to come. The woman follows the caravan for days but she is not allowed to see Jesus. So, she decides to make a pest of herself until she gets to see the Lord. She believes in prayer just like Padre Pio believed in prayer. He writes to his spiritual director:
“Dear Father Director, something has happened to me that I cannot explain or understand, a red spot about the size of a penny has appeared in the middle of my palms followed by a strong, acute pain. The pain is much worse on the left hand, so much that I still feel it. It hurts a little even under my feet […] Will Jesus, who is so kind and merciful, relieve me from these pains?” [Quoted from the documentary Padre Pio, Uomo di Dio (Padre Pio, Man of God)]
Poor Padre Pio would pray for fifty long years to be relieved of the excruciating pains of the Cross. After going through decades of accusations and humiliation, the stigmata finally disappeared as his own death approached.
The Canaanite woman and Padre Pio shared that patience and humility to persevere in prayer even before a God that appeared to be aloof and even hostile. One person I met a few years ago taught me how to go a step further. He taught me to give thanks for God’s delay in granting those graces that we need so much. He added that we must specially thank God for those things that do not look like grace, for our problems, our losses, our unmitigated needs, and our waiting for Him. Why? Because it does not take much faith to thank God for our many blessings. Any fool can smile when the sun shines but it takes faith to believe that God is good and a benefactor when He appears to be exactly the opposite. That really takes a lot of faith.
The travails of the Canaanite woman, and the patient suffering of Padre Pio are nothing but God perfecting the faith of those who persevere in following Him. Jesus does not want fair weather friends. The ones still standing with the Lamb of God at the end of this ordeal are there because “they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” (Revelation 14:4)
I have been asking for a specific grace for a long time, I am about to enter the seventh year of my petition. I can personally attest that the long wait has improved my faith. I know my Benefactor much better now. Trust is perfected in perseverance.