49. Forced by Faith (Matthew 15:21-28)

“Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the blessings and benefits which you have given me, for all the pains and insults you have borne for me. O most merciful friend, my brother and redeemer, grant that I may know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day, day by day. Amen.”  - St. Richard of Chichester

Matthew 15:21-28: Jesus left that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Christ the Lord Christ takes his small band of twelve Apostles away from Jewish lands into the Phoenician territory around the cities of Tyre and Sidon in order to put the final touches on their training before making his way back to Jerusalem to suffer his Passion. There he once again shows forth his power as he casts out a demon with merely a word.

The miracles of Christ are referred to in Scripture as “signs and wonders,” the same kind of signs and wonders that manifested God’s presence in the Old Testament. They show that Christ is of God, that God is at work in Christ, and they are meant to stir up faith in him. Someone who demonstrates such power, and who wields it with such self-restraint, must either be accepted as God’s messenger or rejected as the devil’s lackey, but he should not be ignored. All three reactions appear in the Gospels; which corresponds to our own?

Christ the Teacher The heart of God can be moved. Jesus had a particular mission to accomplish; the age of the universal Church was still waiting in the wings while he worked among the Jews. The parameters of this mission did not include Canaanites (ancestral enemies of the Israelites). But the woman had what Christ’s heart yearns for: love, faith, and humility.

She was seeking a miracle not for herself, but for the sake of her beloved daughter and at her own expense (imagine how humiliating it would be to tag along behind a Jewish rabbi in public screaming to get his attention). And she believed in Christ. It is hard to imagine how she had come to believe in him. Perhaps her initial faith was quite small (she calls him “Son of David,” which could be a merely political title), but contact with him increased it – at last she came, “kneeling at his feet,” as to a divinity. In any case, she knew that he could do it. She also knew that he would not do it because she deserved it, but simply because he cared. She was not angry with God for sending this trial; she did not come to Jesus furiously demanding justice. She accepted the trial and recognized that the miracle would be no less a gift than existence itself. This enabled her to take the rebuff and come right back with another petition to the Lord.

Love, faith, and humility: these are the secret ingredients for prayer that moves the heart of God – even a prayer as simple as, “Lord, help me.”

Christ the Friend The dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman shows how eager Christ is to fill us with the joy of his Kingdom. His objection to the woman’s first petition must not have been too strenuous; at least, she saw something in his eyes or heard something in his voice that encouraged her to persevere. Even the harsh insult he levels against her seems designed to elicit an even greater act of faith than she had already made. (We should note that it is possible to say harsh things in a gentle way, which may have been the case here.) The bottom line is that Christ was willing to be convinced; he allowed her faith to change his agenda, something even friends are rarely able to do. This flexibility shows the readiness of his love.

The Canaanite Woman: I had almost given up hope, but then he smiled at me and told me that my prayer was answered. He did it so simply. I was silenced. I looked up at him, hardly believing what he had said. In fact, I didn’t really believe it. While I was hurrying home I was wondering, hoping that my daughter was saved, but still wondering. I guess I thought he would perform the miracle with some drama, or that he would come to my home. But it was enough for him to will to do it. When I finally reached my little house, I hesitated to go in. Could it really be true? I pulled aside the curtain and looked at my little daughter lying on the mat. She was sleeping peacefully, her face relaxed, her breathing regular. She was healed. I knelt down and embraced her. Through my tears I prayed in thanksgiving to Jesus.

Christ in My Life How different this woman is from the Pharisees! How it must have gladdened your heart to find someone so humble, someone so trusting in you, after those long and fruitless discussions with the self-righteous Pharisees. Lord Jesus, teach me to be humble. Teach me to pray from my heart. Show me how to let your grace enlighten my mind and enliven my will…

You always hear my prayers. Why don’t I pray more? I don’t deserve your mercy and grace, but I do need them, and I know you want to give them. Help me to want the right things, to implore your help for the people I love. I can’t give them everything they need, but you can. Here me now as I pray for these people. Make me a channel of your peace…

A Christian is supposed to follow in your footsteps. I wonder if there is someone in my life who is insistently crying out to me for help, and I simply don’t realize it. You have given me so much. Give me one more thing: an eagerness to share all I have received with others who need it. With the love of your heart, Lord, inflame my heart…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. He has also published three other titles: Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions, “Meditations for Mothers” and “A Guide to Christian Meditation”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN’S BOOKS include: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”, Inside the Passion–The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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  • JMC

    You provide a link for people to help provide resources to those who do not have the funds to obtain them. Where does one go to take advantage of this help?

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