How do we react, what do we do when we pray and God doesn’t answer? Do we give up? If not, and we ask again but there is still no answer, do we persevere? How many times would we keep on asking? What would be reasonable do you think? The Canaanite woman in the gospel today would not be put off or sent away no matter how many times she was ignored. She even took a common insult and turned it round to her advantage. Being a dog at her Masters table she could still expect a few crumbs to fall. St Jerome says:
“Wonderful are shown the faith, patience, and humility of this woman; faith, that she believed that her daughter could be healed; patience, that so many times overlooked, she yet perseveres in her prayers; humility, that she compares herself not to the dogs, but to the whelps (the puppies). I know, she says, that I do not deserve the children’s bread, and that I cannot have whole meat, nor sit at the table with the master of the house, but I am content with that which is left for the whelps, that through humble fragments I may come to the amplitude of the Perfect Bread.”
Would that we had the resilience of this woman, her refusal to give up, her perseverance and her endurance in prayer! She was strongly drawn to Jesus by the power of his love. At first cry she exclaimed; “son of David!” but drawing nearer she worshipped him as God, crying: “Lord help me!” She knew she was coming to God and even if God should rebuff her, as at first he did, she would not go away. She was like Jacob wrestling with an angel for a blessing that at first would not come (Genesis 32:22-31). She was like the widow in Christ’s parable who in the dead of the night would not leave the judge’s house until she had justice (Luke 18:1-8). She embodied the principle that the kingdom of God must sometimes be seized with both hands, (Matthew 11:12).
This was the faith then that Jesus commended in such glowing terms. The gospel says that her daughter was healed “from that very hour.” This healing of a Gentile woman at a distance reminds us of the healing of the Centurions servant, where again our Lord was not present when the miracle took place. Far from insulting her Christ knew what lay in her heart; he knew the stuff of which she was made, tough stuff. He knew that she could take the insults, the rebuffs, the obstruction of the disciples, the disdain of the crowd. Her faith was greater than these trivial difficulties. This was what so impressed Christ.
Now we need to strive to be worthy of this same grace; to have the same attitude in our believing as the Canaanite woman. As I have so often said recently in this place, simply because the gospel lections have demanded it; we need to be bold in both our faith and our prayers. Expect great things from God and great things you shall see. Do not let disappointments and setbacks in either life or prayer hinder you from hammering on the door of heaven. Let it be an insistent humility that provokes you to seek those crumbs that fall from the table of our heavenly Father. As St Jerome said: that through humble fragments I may come to the amplitude of the Perfect Bread.
The Perfect Bread of course is the Bread that came down from Heaven, Christ himself. Humility is content with fragments, crumbs that come from God. However, in His good time when he sees our hunger He will give us the fullness of the whole Loaf.
Are you hungry for the righteousness of God? I know I am and I know how often I must come to him hungry to be fed. In this Eucharist he feeds is still week by week as we receive the precious Body and holy Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. From this feast in repentance and with humility we shall never be turned away. We shall find healing for our souls and for our families, our friends and our neighbours. Let us go near and receive the crumbs that fall from his Table!