Today’s gospel might initially seem like a story about healing, but I think it is really a story about faith. We hear about the Canaanite woman whose daughter is tormented by a demon. At first Jesus does not say a word in response to her petition. Then he states he is only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He goes on to suggest helping a Canaanite is like taking the food of children and throwing it to the dogs. These are very harsh words! The woman refuses to be beaten down by these words.
Her faith is not simply a belief that Jesus is God and can heal her daughter. Her faith is a belief that God is love. Jesus is loving and compassionate. She is not discouraged by the words Jesus speaks or the circumstances of her own life.
This faith is very much like the grace we pray for in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises. We pray not only to know our own sinfulness, but also to know that God loves us unconditionally and infinitely beyond what we can imagine. Our God is a loving, forgiving, and compassionate God. The Canaanite woman has absolute faith that Jesus will respond with unconditional and infinite love.
Is my faith as strong as this woman’s? When I do not receive what I pray for, when harsh words are directed at me, when life seems totally unfair; do I still believe that God is love. Do I believe that God’s infinite, unconditional, and absolute love is for me. At those times in my life, do I call out to the Lord and relentlessly seek His love and compassion, as the Canaanite woman does?
David McNulty is the Provincial Assistant for Advancement, Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits