While surfing the Internet trying to occupy my time a few months ago during the strict movement control order, I came across a video of a young boy opening his birthday gift. It was obvious that he had wanted a Play Station for his birthday and so his family decided to prank him. He first received a nicely wrapped gift and slowly went on to unwrap it. As soon as he unwrapped it, he saw the words Play Station on the box and was overjoyed. He does this dance and scream that was actually quite funny. He then goes on to open the box and in it he finds not a Play Station but a set of school books. The joy-lit and smiling face immediately turns sad and sullen. For him the prank was ill humour. To cut the story short, he was given a second box shortly after and it contained a Play Station – joy was restored!
The gospel today has a Canaanite woman coming to Jesus with great optimism and enthusiasm, hoping for a cure for her daughter who is ‘tormented by a devil’. Interestingly, she met a cold and indifferent Jesus, quite different from the one that we are accustomed to seeing in the gospels. In fact, a few weeks ago we heard that when Jesus saw the large crowd, ‘he took pity on them and healed the sick’. The Canaanite woman must have certainly thought that this is not “the same” Jesus that others had spoken to her about.
If we focus only on the first part of the conversation Jesus had with the woman, one could easily conclude that Jesus’ response was certainly perplexing to the say the least. Nowhere else in the gospels do we find Jesus’ reaction to be cold, harsh and using such humiliating terms. If we focus on the first part only, then we miss the key point of the gospel today.
The focus on this encounter comes in the second part. Here is a woman, despised by the Jews, standing toe to toe with Jesus, even theologically. Nothing much is said about the background of this woman but her optimism and enthusiasm gives Jesus the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that the salvation that He came to offer was to all and not just for a select few. During His public ministry in Israel, Jesus tried to convince them that He was the Messiah, but they often wanted a sign. But now that He is in Gentile territory and meets this woman who was already convinced that He was the Messiah even before meeting Him. It is her great faith that saved not only her daughter but her as well. She had not met Jesus, but already a believer. Even though not knowing the outcome, she believed in Him despite being “rejected”.
The young boy earlier may have gotten over his disappointment in a few days if he did not actually get the Play Station and surely would not have lost faith in his family. Similarly, in our spiritual journey, we acknowledge that God may not grant us all that we pray and ask for, even though Jesus had said ‘ask and it will be given’.
Our faith in God should not be dependent on getting what we want. Faith calls us to enter into a relationship with God, to listen to God’s word, to take it into our minds and our hearts, and finally to follow and live it, expressed with others. The gospel today makes clear that the grace of God will be given to all who believe. Though along the way we may be disappointed with God, but God will never disappoint us as He sees the bigger picture that sometimes we do not see.
The Canaanite woman teaches us today that as we carry our faith out into the world, faith grows not just in receiving favours but in being courageous to stand up ‘toe to toe’ to witness our faith and to put our faith into action. Amen.