This reflection is based on Matthew 15:21-28.
Today’s Gospel story offers us an untypical portrait of Jesus–and for most of us, an unwelcome one as well. A distressed Canaanite woman approaches the Lord and requests His healing for her sick daughter. “Have pity on me!” she cried out. “My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But instead of immediately granting the request as He often does, in this particular case, we are told, Jesus ignores the woman and only after the woman manages to drive His disciples crazy with her nagging that he finally turns to her. But even then, he does not grant her request. He tells her that his mission is to the house of Israel, which does not include a Canaanite like her.
But when the woman still refuses to give up and asks for his help anew, our Lord says something even more unexpected: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Again, the woman remains unfazed, stands her ground, and responds quite courageously: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Impressed by her faith, Jesus decides to make an exception and heals the woman’s daughter
I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed not so much by the woman’s faith, but by her persistence and humility. If I got a response as negative (and as surprisingly harsh!) as she did, I’d probably feel bad, give up, and just walk away. Maybe that’s what we’re doing already. Maybe there have been times in our lives when we feel that God is silent, that He ignores us and leaves our prayers unanswered. We interpret certain events in our lives as signs that God isn’t listening. And we do exactly what the woman in the story refuses to do: We give up. We walk away. Either we have too little faith or too much pride–whatever our reason, we give up too easily on the Lord.
The very important lesson that the Canaanite woman is teaching us today is that we should not give up too easily on the Lord regardless of the kind of response we may, for whatever reason, imagine we’re getting from him. It is precisely at those moments when we feel that God doesn’t care for us that we should make the conscious decision to stay, humbly stand our ground, and as the woman does in the gospel story, keep the faith.
How many of us would agree to accepting the crumbs that fall from the table? Very few, I suspect. We often feel entitled to a place at the table. But the story shows us that sometimes it is humility like that of the Canaanite woman that will eventually get us invited to a place at the table. It is when we have too much pride in ourselves–and too little faith in the Lord–that we ironically end up subsisting on crumbs. The last thing the Lord wants us to do is to make do with the scraps that fall on the floor because he has prepared a feast on the table.