Here is a Gospel that teaches us to pray always and not lose heart. Here is a Gospel about having tenacity in prayer and, even when the results seem discouraging, continuing to beseech the Lord. This is also a gospel about the Lord’s will to extend the Gospel to all the nations and to make the Church truly Catholic.
Lets look at this Gospel in Five stages.
STAGE I – TRAVELS – The text says, At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Thus Jesus goes north of Israel into the territory we know today as Lebanon.
Now Matthew is not just giving us a quick travelogue here. We are not interested merely in Jesus physical location but, even more, what this location signifies. Jesus has gone up north to Pagan territory. Other things being equal, this is a rather an odd destination for a Jewish preacher. But we need to recall that Jesus is preparing the Church for a mission to all the nations. So it makes sense that he pushes the boundaries of the Jewish world. Jesus interacted with Gentiles and Samaritans as if to say, “The racism of a Jewish only world must now end….The Gospel must break the boundaries of nation and race and be truly universal, truly catholic.”
This vision of the Gentiles being drawn to the Lord was actually well attested in the Old Testament. But, just like today, there were texts in the Scriptures that were popular and well known, and other texts that were conveniently “forgotten” or made little impact. Consider a few examples of texts which announced the entry of the Gentiles into the holy People of God:
- The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants– all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:6-9)
- I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isa 49:6)
- Babylon and Egypt I will count among those who know me, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia, these will be her children and Zion shall be called “mother” for all shall be her children. (Psalm 87:4-5)
- I come to gather nation of every language; they shall come and see my glory. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord….All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord. (Is 66:18; 23)
Hence we can see that the Jewish people’s own Scriptures spoke of a day when Jews and Gentiles together would worship the Lord and be his people.
This introductory note about Jesus’ location is essential to understanding the text that will follow. We must grasp here Jesus’s will to reach out to the Gentiles. We do this in order to appreciate that some of the harsh tone he exhibits later can likely be understood as a rhetorical means of calling the question of racial and national division, rather than as an affirmation of racial and national division. In effect he is tweaking his disciples, and the Church and giving voice to their fears and hostility. In so doing he also calls out the Canaanite woman in order to show forth one who is willing to set aside these racist notions for a greater good.
Lets watch it unfold.
Stage II. TORMENT – The text says, And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.“
It is a sure fact that Canaanites were despised by Jews. And Canaanites returned the favor and despised Jews. What is it that would make a Canaanite woman reach out to a Jewish Messiah? In a word, desperation. In her torment and desperation this woman no longer cares who helps her daughter, as long as some one helps her!
She has likely heard of Jesus power to save and heal. She looks past her likely racial hatred and, risking terrible and personal rebuke, she calls on Jesus. Her sorrow crosses boundaries. The only enemy she cares about is the demon afflicting her daughter.
It is a true, but sad fact that a common enemy can often unite factions. It should not take this, but the Lord will take whatever he can get to unite us.
So, torment has lowered the barriers.
Stage III – TEST – The text says, But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”…. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
It is a shocking and daring thing that Jesus does here. He takes up the voice of sin, oppression, racism and nationalism. It is a very strange thing to hear come from the mouth of the Lord who has already journeyed among the Samaritans and Gentiles, healing, and often praising their faith (e.g. Lk 8:26; Mt 8:10; Lk 7:9; Matt 8:11 inter al).
The usual explanation is that he is calling out this woman’s faith and through her is summoning his disciples to repentance. The disciples what the Lord to order her away. In effect he takes up their voice and the voice of all oppression and utters the hateful sayings of the world, going so far as to use the term “dog” to refer to her.
Yes, Jesus is testing her, trying awakening something in her. He is also giving voice to the ugly thoughts of his disciples and likely to others, on both sides, Gentile and Jew, who were standing by and watching with marvel and disdain the interaction of a Gentile, and a woman at that, and a Jew.
There is a saying, Things do, by opposition grow. And thus, in this test, Jesus grows her faith, and possibly that of the bystanders. And just as an athlete grows by tougher opponents and a musician by tougher pieces so does the testing of this woman’s faith cause it to grow.
Remember, God tested Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Esther, Susannah, Judith, Gideon, and countless others. She too is being tested. And like those of old she too with grow by the test.
We too are tested. For God seems a times to be strangely silent and we are made to feel like no child of God at all. Indeed we may often conclude that even the dogs live better than we.
And the question for us remains. Will we give way on the test or hold out until our change comes? Will our faith grow or wither? Will our love grow stronger, or will it change to resentment?
Stage IV. TENACITY – The text says, But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.“
Note here that the woman is not put off. Whatever anger, grief or discouragement may move through her, she perseveres.
She is even bold and creative. In a sense, she will not take no for an answer.
- She is like Mother Mary at Cana who did not pause for a moment when Jesus seemed dubious of her request (Jn 2:5)
- She is like the widow before the Judge in Jesus parable who never stopped pestering the judge for a favorable ruling (Lk 18:1-8).
- She is like the blind man at the side of the road who, though rebuked by the crowds still kept calling for Jesus (Lk 18:39)
- She is like the parents who brought their infants to Jesus for a blessing and who, though rebuked by the disciples, won through to the blessing (Mk 10:13-16)
- She is like Zacchaeus, who though hindered by height climbed a tree to see Jesus (Lk 19:1ff).
- She is like the widow with the hemorrhage who, though weak and ritually unclean, pressed thorough the crowd and grabbed the hem of Jesus’ garments (Mk 5:28)
- She is like the lepers, who though forbidden by law to enter the town sought the Lord at the Gates and fell down before him (Luke 17).
Yes, she has tenacity. She will hold out until the change, the healing, she desires for her daughter is accomplished. She will not give up or let go of Jesus no matter how unwilling he seems, no matter how politically incorrect her request, no matter how much hostility she encounters from the disciples, the crowds or even Jesus himself. She will hold out.
Here is a woman with tenacity. How about you?
Stage V. TRIUMPH – The text says, Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
Here is the victory. She has gone from torment to triumph, by a tenacious and tested faith. Jesus now takes away the veil of his role and shows his true self, as the merciful, wonder-working Messiah and Lord.
Jesus says of her: “Great is your faith.” But how has it become so? In the crucible of testing, that is how. We may wonder at God’s delays, at his seeming disinterest or anger. But in the end, it is our faith that is most important to him.
Our faith is more important to God than our finances, our comfort, or our needed cures. For it is by faith that we are saved. We are not saved by our health, comforts money or good fortune. And God is willing to delay, he is willing to test us and try us, if only for the sake of our stronger faith by which he will save us. God saves us, but he does it through our faith.
Why all this delay, why suffering, why trials? Stronger faith. That is why. God may not come when you want him, but he’s always right on time. For his true goal is not merely to give us what we want, but what we need. And that is stronger faith.
Having done this, the Lord gives her the triumph. We too must accept that God’s truest blessing for us is not improved health or finances, but stronger faith.
Consider well the lesson of this Gospel. Though God often seems uninterested, even cruel, he is working his purposes out and seeking to grow our faith. Hard, you say? What parent among you has not had to do the same for every child? For children untested, untried, who get their every wish, and never have to wait, are spoiled, self centered and headed for ultimate ruin. Consider well that God knows exactly what he does and consider too that most of us are hard cases. God must often work mightily to get our attention and strengthen our faith. Do not give up on God, he is up to something good, very good.
Photo Credit: Goodsalt.com used with permission
I have it on the best of authority that as this woman saw Jesus coming up the road she sang this song:
Pass me not O gentle savior
hear my humble cry
while on others thou art calling
do not pass me by
Savior, savior, hear my humble cry
while on others thou art calling
do not pass me by
Let me at a throne of mercy
find a sweet relief
kneeling there in deep contrition
help my unbelief
9 Replies to “While On Others Thou Art Calling, Do not Pass Me By! A Meditation on the Gospel for the 20th Sunday of the Year”
I have to save this powerful message to read when my faith is small.
Than you Msgr! You have me in tears again. Praise God there are preachers such as you, who can bring a humble sinner to tears
My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope preached Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28. The title of the homily is that “while on others you are calling, do not bypass me”.
Gist of the Gospel of Matthew is the faith of the Canaanite woman.
Thus, theme of the homily is faith.
Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate to the theme of the homily hereafter:
In the above Gospel of Matthew, the woman in Canaan came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the daughter is tormented by a demon of her.”
She said, “Yes, Lord, for even my daughter can eat the scraps of food
that fall from the table of her masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
Thus, here, dog is daughter is tormented by a demon of Canaanite woman.
The daughter is tormented by a demon because she had no faith.
But Canaanite woman, mother of daughter, had great faith. Only great faith of Canaanite woman healed her daughter from that hour.
A strange story in Vietnam, from 1975 to 1986, Vietnam’s economy met with serious difficulties such as short of foods, clothing, medicines, raw materials, and spare parts because Americans withdrew from Vietnam from 1973.
Hence, on 1986, former General Secretary of Vietnamese Communist Party, Mr. Nguyen Văn Linh, said “We save selves before God saves us”.
Obeying teaching of Mr. Linh, Vietnamese Communists struggled with their economic problems. Fortunately, on 1995, Americans came to save Vietnam again.
You can read further on United State Vietnam relations here:
For many Vietnamese people including me, Americans are God. Only Americans can save Vietnam./.
Mr. Nguyen Thuong Minh,
I am trying to decipher what you are saying in your post in comparing the Vietnamese time of hardship to that of the Canaanite woman. My understanding of it is that the former Secretary General of the Communist Party told the people to rely on their own effort first rather than on God. What you are probably disputing is that our faith should not be on self-reliance but on God. In other words, you are illustrating that just as Jesus healed the daughter because of the great faith and intercession of her mother, God also looked with favor on Vietnam through the intercession or assistance of the Americans. And just like any other Asian nations that had been helped by the Americans, the people look up to them as saviors sent by God.
Yes, indeed I think so.
Stage V. TRIUMPH
“Our faith is more important to God than our finances, our comfort, or our needed cures. For it is only by faith that we are saved.” — sola fide?
No because there is a very Catholic way of understanding this. Faith is not an abstraction, it is the rich source of grace and every good work. For as James says, But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith, by what I do (James 2:18) Hence our works are the fruit of faith and thus faith is not alone but it is the necessary foundation and without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb 11:6)
Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity and since this is not a homily on soteriology, I will remove the word only since it is not a word that is necessary in the sentence.
I’m floored by the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was at the Marriage of Cana, not in Jerusalem. And here He is spurning a Canaanite woman.
Hence, a woman work with faith, without work and faith she can’t have his request. Thanks father for great post..God bless.and more power.you are my good teacher. “Think good and do good.”
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