Reflection for 16th August 2020

by Alan Finch

Readings: Genesis 45:1- 15; Romans 11:1 -2a,29-32; Matthew 15:10-28

Theme – To gain a new insight about the God-given preciousness of all people

In the second part of today’s gospel reading we find Jesus confronted by a Canaanite woman who was obviously distraught because her daughter was being tormented by a demon, and I guess that she had heard about this Jesus person and his powers of healing.  Likelihood is that she truly believed that what she had heard was true and whilst not necessarily understanding him to be more than a Rabbi and healer would I think have known about the Jewish search for a Messiah.  So, let us imagine that at the beginning of this encounter, Jesus was stuck in such a mind-set that his mission was towards the Jewish nation ‘the children of Abraham’. But she certainly would not go away when requested nor even when Jesus tells her that as a Gentile he was not there for them.  Nonetheless here he was at a place where Gentiles lived. 

There, he encounters this persistent woman and even if he had not had time to think much about Gentiles before then’ this may well have been his first chance to re-think commonly accepted views about Gentiles.   And as he thought it through, he kept silent to think how exactly he was going to respond to this persistent person confronting him. 

Perhaps he would have prayed about what he should do – about what God intended for him in this emotion-filled moment and thinking of him wondering how he could deny her request for healing her daughter. But, at the time, how could he fail to follow the traditional teachings? How could he even begin to concentrate on the needs of the Gentile world and still have time to complete his primary ministry among the Jews and reach Jerusalem – where his destiny lay? So, he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But when she persisted all the more, he makes the statement “It is not fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

But can you think of his surprise when she responded “At least give me a crumb, like a dog under the dinner table.” I would think his heart must have been truly touched and his love poured out.  Her words would have been flying right into the common understanding, almost as if to challenge this view and look at it from the opposite direction.   I am sure the woman’s words and imploring passion for her daughter would have reached right into Jesus’ heart and filled him with compassion and touched his very faith. It is then that he realises that standing before him was a Gentile whose faith and desire for God’s healing exceeded that of so many others.

So, he was changed. Putting his greater mission aside for the moment, he realised, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.

What then if we can follow this interpretation?  We will see Jesus the man wrestling with his understanding of how to be the human face of God; see that he experienced growth in faith and understanding, that he gained a new insight about the God-given preciousness of all people – Jews and Gentile alike.

Though he had to continue his work among the Jews, the door was now open for ministry to and acceptance of Gentiles, as well. This was a major, fundamental change; in fact a revolution in the accustomed way of religious thinking of his day and all because of his internal struggle presented by the challenging power of a truth-telling foreigner. Surely this interpretation will give us the opportunity to come to much more inclusive understanding of the Christian Faith and we will then be able to see that today’s Gospel story as the foundation for the spreading of the Gospel way beyond the Jewish roots from whence it began. 

This interpretation and subsequent widening of the truth of Jesus’ mission through the Gospels is handed down the centuries to us to continue the work of the early church to spread the Good News of God in Christ throughout the world to everybody.

This is a transformational change that we are asked to face up to sometimes challenging our commonly held beliefs and ways of worship along with the very challenging actions that we see all around us in today’s society.  It is then important for us to use the Jesus experience to grow our own spiritual health in face of the current Pandemic. 

So how will this growth in our spirituality and faith in God help us get through each day?

Not an easy question and certainly I have yet to find easy answers, not glib ones but solid answers to a these seemingly straight forward questions but when I reflect on them and begin to feel the Lord’s presence in that challenge, I am filled with hope and energy to jump right back up and try my utmost to rethink what Jesus’ view of any given situation might be..  

But we cannot expect that even if we could find some kind of answer that life’s difficulties would disappear; Jesus was quite clear about this; being a Christian is not going to be easy but it will be fulfilling and set examples to those we interact with; that our God is one who forgives, one who wants us to be His own and that for each of us He has a purpose.  Sometimes we find that incredibly hard to accept, we are too small or do not consider ourselves to be leaders or how can my life make any difference in the big bad world of ours where war and human suffering exist and peace seems so far away.   It is though through every life, every person who interacts with another that the difference is made.  For some that is difficult to grasp or we think that no one is going to listen to what I have to say or think our suggestions are not worth voicing …..  BUT …. and this is a big BUT;  you and your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as saviour and that it is through Him we can reach out to others with the support of the Holy Spirit, that is what makes you what you are, makes what you do; an integral (that is without your part the whole cannot be achieved) an integral component of another’s bringing to Faith.  

There is nothing more powerful for the Lord than to be a living example of what being a Christian means in practical terms.  No matter how intelligent, or educationally clever you might be if the practical outpouring of the Christ like life style is not obvious when you go into a place of work, a person’s home, a meeting on the street, doing the weekly shop at one of the supermarkets or local corner shop, or when visiting the sick or those in hospital then maybe you need to look carefully at what you are and question your yourself and ask; are you really a Christian or just thinking that you are.

We can learn, as always, from Jesus. In his encounter with the Gentile woman, he remained silent at first, letting her talk.  That surely is the model for listening to people who are not like us? Can we not learn from the encounter related in today’s Gospel reading that listening to the stories of others unlike us, engaging in courageous conversations, adopting open-mindedness, practicing tolerance, and living in mutual respect can lead to a better sense of loving community?   We know that no one should be counted as the underdog and that everyone – everyone – is a beloved child of God, deserving of God’s grace found in Jesus. 

We also know that God does not ask us to do what He knows we are not capable off, nor does He ask us to do or give beyond our means, but most of us have a notion of what is possible for us and I would say that as a rule of thumb for us all, is that we should push ourselves one step beyond where we think our limit is, and I am sure even then, that will still be less than what God knows we are capable of – but for us at that moment it will be a challenge and we will need to strive hard to get even to that point;  once there though, we will know that for next time, we can move even further on; this after all is a journey we are on; one that will lead to the Kingdom…

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