A cry that gets salvation
XX Sunday of Ordinary Time – August 20, 2017
Is 56, 1.6-7; Ps 67; Rm 11.13-15.29-32; Mt 15: 21-28
1) The cry of faith to invoke a gift not to claim it.
Last Sunday, we meditated on the filial prayer of Christ who expresses his need to be with the Father, and Peter’s prayer who, to be with Christ, cries out to him “Lord, save me.” Today Gospel makes us hear the cry of a pagan woman who pleadingly and confidently turns to the Messiah saying, “Have mercy of me, Lord, son of David!” This woman begs Christ to release her daughter from devil. She humbly begs the Lord to do a miracle, but does not require divine intervention as a right. She expects it as a gift. She asks the One who is a gift recognizing in him the Lord and Messiah. Her faith is all enclosed in the expression: “Have mercy of me, Lord, Son of David.”
Once again the liturgy makes us contemplate the “Gospel of Grace” that responds to the desire for salvation, and for this reason, we pray: “Infuse in us the sweetness of your love so that loving you in everything and above all, we get the promised things that exceed every desire “(Opening prayer of today’s Mass).
Praying in this way, we put ourselves in the boundless horizon of God’s love, a love that attracts us to Him to be filled with joy.
The episode reported by the today Gospel is embodied and understood in the logic of the tender and infinite love of God. Saint Matthew tells us about a meeting that takes place “in a foreign land” with a pagan woman, who is a mother oppressed by anguish (“My daughter is tormented by a demon”). This mother gets what she was asking for. Today’s evangelical tale tells us the story of a pain open to faith and of a faith which becomes miracle and liberation.
The Canaanite woman turns to Jesus, sure to be satisfied. Her faith is insistent, brave, humble, and stronger than the apparent refusal. Faith must be both certain and patient. It must not be discouraged even by the silence of God “He did not even say a word”. The silence of Jesus may seem disconcerting, so much that it arouses the intervention of the disciples, but it is not about insensitivity to the pain of the woman.
Saint Augustine rightly comments “Christ seemed indifferent not because he want to refuse mercy to her, but to inflame her desire “(Sermo 77, 1: PL 38, 483). The apparent distance taken by Jesus, who says, “I was not sent except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel “(Mt 15, 24) does not discourage the Canaanite, who insists “Lord, help me!”(Mt 15:25). And even when she receives an answer that seems to close any hope -“It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mt 15, 26) -, she does not desist. She doesn’t want to take anything from anyone: in its simplicity and humility little is enough, crumbles are enough, just one glance and a good word from the Son of God is enough. And Jesus is admired by the answer of such a great faith and says to her, “Let be done for you as you wish” (Mt 15:28). And from that moment her daughter is healed.
2) A persistent question to the one who loves us.
The healing of a young woman is not the only miracle narrated in the today Gospel. During the dialogue between Christ and the Canaanite woman, who begged a grace, it happened another miracle, greater than her daughter’s healing. This mother has become a “believer,” one of the first pagan believers.
If the Messiah had listened to her at the first request, all that this woman would have obtained is the healing of her daughter. Life would have gone through with less annoyances but everything would have ended there, and mother and daughter would have died in anonymity. Instead, they will be spoken about until the end of the world. Perhaps, Jesus took the inspiration from this meeting to propose the widow’s parable about the “Need to pray always, without getting tired”.
In the insistence of the Canaanite woman transpires the confidence in the power of Jesus. He was trying to hide, but the fame accompanying him prevented a single moment of solitude. He was there for her (and today he is here for us) and she knew it. Her presence in a territory that was not Jewish, “in the area of Tire and Sidon”, could not be casual. She had guessed the favorable time for her daughter’s salvation. This certainty moves her and pushes her to Jesus. The certainty of a faith full of hope throws her at Christ’s feet, who says “Woman, great is your faith! Let be done as you wish “(Mt 15:28). Yes, this woman has a great faith. “Not knowing the ancient prophets, nor the recent miracles of the Lord, nor his commandments or his promises, indeed, rejected by him, she persists in her request and does not get tired of knocking at the door of the one who, by fame, had been named Savior. So her prayer is granted in a visible and immediate way”(Saint Bede the Venerable, Homely on the Gospels I, 22: PL 94, 102-105).
The insistent prayer of this woman does not arise solely from the need to obtain her daughter’s healing. It is born from a faith that is not the result of a theory or a need, but of an encounter with Christ, the Son of the “living God who calls and reveals his love” (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 4) with a gesture of mercy.
In addition, the episode on which we are meditating makes us understand that when we pray the Lord we must not expect an immediate fulfillment of what we ask for, but rather rely on Christ’s heart trying to interpret the events of our life in the perspective of his design of love, often mysterious in our eyes. Therefore, in our prayer praise and thanks should merge together, even when it seems to us that God does not respond to our concrete expectations. The abandonment to the love of God, who precedes us and always accompanies us, is one of the fundamental attitudes of our dialogue with Him.
A clear example of this attitude is offered by the consecrated virgins, who are called to live in particular the “service of prayer,” as it is said during the Rite of Consecration when the Book of the Hours is given to them.
Moreover, with the full donation of self to Christ, these women testify how to ask and how to pray. Before the gift (= grace) is granted, they adhere to Jesus, who in his gifts gives himself. The Giver is more valuable than the gift; He is the ” invaluable Treasury”, the” precious Pearl “; the gift of the miracle is granted “in addition” (cf. Mt 6, 21 and 6:33).
These consecrated ones testify a very important thing: before the gift is granted, it is necessary to adhere to the One who gives: the giver is most valuable of the gift. Therefore, even for us, beyond what God gives us when we ask, the greatest gift he can give is his friendship, his presence, and his love. He is the precious treasure to ask for and guard all time.
Let us not forget the deep bond between the love for God and love for the neighbor that must also enter in our prayer. Our prayer opens the door to God, who teaches us to go out of our way to be able to become closer to the others, especially in moments of trial, to bring them consolation, hope and light. May Jesus the Lord allow us to be able to have a persevering and intense prayer to strengthen our personal relationship with God the Father, widen our hearts to the needs of those who are next, and feel the beauty of being “sons in the Son” together with so many brothers and sisters.
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430)
Sermon XXVII. [LXXVII. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Mt 15,21 “Jesus went out thence, and withdrew into the parts of Tire and
Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman,” etc.
1). This woman of Canaan, who has just now been brought before us in the lesson of the Gospel,
shows us an example of humility, and the way of godliness; shows us how to rise from humility
unto exaltation. Now she was, as it appears, not of the people of Israel, of whom came the
Patriarchs, and Prophets, and the parents of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh; of
whom the Virgin Mary herself was, who was the Mother of Christ. This woman then was not of
this people; but of the Gentiles. For, as we have heard, the Lord “departed into the coasts of
Tyre and Sidon, and behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts,”1 and with the
greatest earnestness begged of Him the mercy to heal her daughter, “who was grievously vexed
with a devil.” Tyre and Sidon were not cities of the people of Israel, but of the Gentiles; though
they bordered on that people. So then, as being eager to obtain mercy she cried out, and boldly
knocked; and He made as though He heard her not,2 not to the end that mercy might be refused
her, but that her desire might be enkindled; and not only that her desire might be enkindled, but
that, as I have said before, her humility might be set forth. Therefore did she cry, while the Lord
was as though He heard her not, but was ordering in silence what He was about to do. The
disciples besought the Lord for her, and said, “Send her away; for she crieth after us.” And He
said, “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”3
- Here arises a question out of these words; “If He was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the
house of Israel, how came we from among the Gentiles into Christ’s fold? What is the meaning
of the so deep economy4 of this mystery, that whereas the Lord knew the purpose of His
coming—that He might have a Church in all nations, He said that ‘He was not sent, but unto the
lost sheep of the house of Israel’?” We understand then by this that it behoved Him to manifest
His Bodily presence, His Birth, the exhibition of His miracles, and the power of His
Resurrection, among that people: that so it had been ordained, so set forth from the beginning,
so predicted, and so fulfilled; that Christ Jesus was to come to the nation of the Jews, to be seen
and slain, and to gain from among them those whom He foreknew. For that people was not
wholly condemned, but sifted. There was among them a great quantity of chaff, but there was
also the hidden worth5 of the grain; there was among them that which was to be burnt, there was
among them also that wherewith the barn was to be filled. For whence came the Apostles?
whence came Peter? whence the rest?
- Whence was Paul himself, who was first called Saul? That is, first proud, afterwards humble?
For when he was Saul, his name was derived from Saul: now Saul was a proud king; and in his
reign he persecuted the humble David.6 So when he who was afterwards Paul,7 was Saul, he was
proud, at that time a persecutor of the innocent, at that time a waster of the Church. For he had
received letters from the chief priests (burning as he was with zeal for the synagogue, and
persecuting the Christian name), that he might show up whatever Christians he should find, to be
punished.8 While he is on his way, while he is breathing out slaughter, while he is thirsting for
blood, he is thrown to the ground by the voice of Christ from heaven the persecutor, he is raised
up the preacher. In him was fulfilled that which is written in the Prophet, “I will wound and I will
heal.”9 For that only in man cloth God wound, which lifteth itself up against God. He is no
unkind10 physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, or cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives
pain, it is true; but he only gives pain, that he may bring the patient on to health. He gives pain;
but if he did not, he would do no good. Christ then by one word laid Saul low, and raised up
Paul; that is, He laid low the proud, and raised up the humble. For what was the reason of his
change of name, that whereas he was afore called Saul, he chose afterwards to be called Paul; but
that he acknowledged in himself that the name of Saul when he was a persecutor, had been a
name of pride? He chose therefore a humble name; to be called Paul, that is, the least. For Paul
is, “the least.” Paul is nothing else but little. And now glorying in this name, and giving us a
lesson11 of humility, he says, “I am the least of the Apostles.”12 Whence then, whence was he,
but of the people of the Jews? Of them were the other Apostles, of them was Paul, of them were
they whom the same Paul mentions, as having seen the Lord after His resurrection. For he says,
“That He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain
unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.”13
- Of this people too, of the people of the Jews, were they, who when Peter was speaking, setting
forth the Passion, and Resurrection, and Divinity of Christ (after that the Holy Ghost had been
received, when all they on whom the Holy Ghost had come, spake with the tongues of all
nations), being pricked in spirit as they heard him, sought counsel for their salvation,
understanding as they did that they were guilty of the Blood of Christ; because they had crucified,
and slain Him, in whose name though slain by, them they saw such great miracles wrought; and
saw the presence of the Holy Ghost. And so seeking counsel they received for answer; “Repent,
and be baptized every one of you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and your sins shall be
forgiven you.”14 Who should despair of the forgiveness of his sins, when the crime of killing
Christ was forgiven to those who were guilty of it? They were converted from among this people
of the Jews; were converted, and baptized. They came to the Lord’s table, and in faith drank that
Blood, which in their fury they had shed. Now in what sort they were converted, how
decidedly,15 and how perfectly, the Acts of the Apostles show. “For they sold all that they
possessed, and laid the prices of their things at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto
every man according as he had need; and no man said that ought was his own, but they had all
things common.”16 And, “They were,” as it is written, “of one heart and of one soul.” Lo here
are the sheep of whom He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
For to them He exhibited His Presence, for them in the midst of their violence against Him He
prayed as He was being crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”17 The
Physician understood how those frenzied men were in their madness putting the Physician to
death, and in putting their Physician to death, though they knew it not, were preparing a medicine
for themselves. For by the Lord so put to death are all we cured, by His Blood redeemed, by the
Bread of His Body delivered from famine. This Presence then did Christ exhibit to the Jews. And
so He said, “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel;” that to them He might
exhibit the Presence of His body; not that He might disregard, and pass over the sheep which He
had among the Gentiles.
- For to the Gentiles He went not Himself, but sent His disciples. And in this was fulfilled what
the Prophet said; “A people whom I have not known hath served Me.” See how deep, how clear,
how express the prophecy is; “a people whom I have not known,” that is, to whom I have not
exhibited My Presence, “hath served Me.” How? It goes on to say, “By the hearing of the ear
they have obeyed Me:”18 that is, they have believed, not by seeing, but by hearing. Therefore
have the Gentiles the greater praise. For the others saw and slew Him; the Gentiles heard and
believed. Now it was to call and gather together the Gentiles, that that might be fulfilled which
we have just now chanted, “Gather us from among the Gentiles, that we may confess to Thy
Name, and glory in Thy praise,”19 that the Apostle Paul was sent. He, the least, made great, not
by himself, but by Him whom he once persecuted, was sent to the Gentiles,20 from a robber
become a shepherd, from a wolf a sheep. He, the least Apostle, was sent to the Gentiles, and
laboured much among the Gentiles, and through him the Gentiles believed. His Epistles are the
- Of this you have a very sacred figure in the Gospel also. A daughter of a ruler of the synagogue
was really dead, and her father besought the Lord, that He would go to her; he had left her sick,
and in extreme danger.21 The Lord set out to visit and heal the sick; in the mean time it was
announced that she was dead, and it was told the father; “Thy daughter is dead, trouble not the
Master.” But the Lord who knew that He could raise the dead, did not deprive the despairing
father of hope, and said to him,” Fear not: only believe.” So he set out to the maiden; and in the
way a certain woman, who had suffered from an issue of blood, and in her lengthened illness had
spent to no purpose all that she had upon physicians, pressed herself in, how she could, amongst
the crowds. When she touched the border of His garment, she was made whole. And the Lord
said, “Who touched Me?” The disciples who knew not what had taken place, and saw that He
was thronged by the multitudes, and that He was troubling Himself about one single woman who
had touched Him gently, answered in astonishment, “The multitudes press Thee, and sayest
Thou, Who touched Me? And He said, Somebody hath touched Me? for the other press, she
hath touched. The many22 then rudely23 press the Body of Christ, few touch it healthfully.
“Somebody,” saith He, “hath touched Me, for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me. And when
the woman saw that she was not hid, she fell down at His feet,” and confessed what had taken
place. After this He set out again, and arrived whither He was going, and raised to life the young
daughter of the ruler of the synagogue who was found to be dead.
- This was a literal fact, and was fulfilled as it is related i but nevertheless these very things which
were done by the Lord had some further signification, being (if we may so say) a sort of visible
and significative words. And this is especially plain, in that place where He sought fruit on the
tree out of season, and because He found none, dried up the tree by His curse.24 Unless this
action be regarded as a figure, there is no good meaning in it; first to have sought fruit on that
tree when it was not the season for fruit on any tree; and then even if it were now the time of
fruit, what fault in the tree was it to have none? But because it signified, that He seeketh not for
leaves only, but for fruit also, that is, not for the words only, but for the deeds of men, by drying
up that tree whereon he found only leaves, he signified their punishment who can speak good
things, but will not do them. And so it is in this place also. For surely there is a mystery in it. He
who foreknoweth all things saith, “Who touched Me?” The Creator maketh Himself like one
who is ignorant; and He asketh, who not only knew this, but who even foreknew all other things.
Doubtless there is something which Christ would speak to us in this significant mystery.
- That daughter of the ruler of the synagogue was a figure of the people of the Jews, for whose
sake Christ had come, who said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman who suffered from the issue of blood, figured the Church from among the
Gentiles, to which Christ was not sent in His bodily presence. He was going to the former, He
was intent on her recovery; meanwhile the latter runs to meet Him, touches His border as though
He knew it not; that is, she is healed by Him who is in some sense absent. He saith, “Who
touched Me?” as though He would say; I do not know this people; “A people whom I have not
known hath served Me. Some one hath touched Me. For I perceive that virtue is gone out of
Me;” that is, that My Gospel hath gone out and filled the whole world. Now it is the border that
is touched, a small and outside25 part of the garment. Consider the Apostles as it were the
garment of Christ. Among them Paul was the border; that is, the last and least. For he said of
himself that he was both; “I am the least of the Apostles.”26 For he was called after them all, he
believed after them all, he healed more than they all. The Lord was not sent but “unto the lost
sheep of the house of Israel.” But because a “people whom He had not known, was also to serve
Him, and to obey Him in the hearing of the ear,” He made mention of them too when He was
among the others. For the same Lord said in a certain place, “Other sheep I have which are not
of this fold; them also I must bring, that there may be one fold and one shepherd.”27
- Of these was this woman; therefore she was not refused, but only put off. “I am not sent,”
saith He, “but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And she was instant in her cries: she
persevered, she knocked, as if she had already heard, “Ask, and receive; seek, and thou shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto thee.” She kept on, she knocked. For so the Lord when He
spake these words, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you;”28 had also said before, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither
cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend
you;”29 that is, lest after despising your pearls, they should even ill use you.30 Cast not therefore
before them what they despise.
- And how distinguish we (as might be answered) who are “swine,” and who are “dogs”? This
has been shown in the case of this woman. For He only answered to her entreaties, “It is not
meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”31 Thou art a dog, thou art one of the
Gentiles, thou worshippest idols. But for dogs what is so proper32 as to lick stones? “It is not”
“With the wish to have the experience that prayer is a dialogue with God who save.” Mgr Follo