Like the woman from Canaan in today’s gospel, we can all come to Jesus and ask Him to meet our needs. Jesus Christ reaches out to each of us in 2012, just as He did 2,000 years ago. However, he does not always give us immediately what we ask for as soon as we ask for His help in our lives. He does hear us; He does meet our needs; but he also wants us to know ourselves, our real strengths and weaknesses, our real needs and hopes.
One of the great British saints, St Bede, who lived in the seventh century in Jarrow, near the modern city of Newcastle upon Tyne, was very impressed by this woman from Canaan who had the nerve to demand loudly of Jesus, again and again, that her daughter be healed. St Bede has been described as the ‘foremost and most influential scholar of Anglo-Saxon England’. That’s quite an assertion—that for the 400 years from the end of the 6th century to the Norman conquest in 1066, St Bede was the outstanding scholar. What did he think of this woman from Canaan in ancient Palestine, who was not Jewish, yet recognized that Jesus Christ held the authority to heal anyone?
In Homilies on the Gospels, Book One, 216-217, St Bede wrote: Jesus ‘kept her waiting for an answer in order to demonstrate to us the perseverance of this woman that we can always imitate. She had the characteristics of constancy and humility. She willingly embraced the indignity she received, and even confirmed the Lord’s statement [that ‘it is not good to take the children’s bread’—that is the bread intended for the Jews—‘and throw it to the dogs’—that is, the Gentiles, the non-Jews]. This woman was a person of such great faith and perseverance that she was convinced that Jesus Christ had the ability to heal her daughter and that He would do so. And He did!
What’s more, St Bede not only praises the faith and perseverance of this Palestinian mother, but St Bede concludes: ‘This woman rightly signifies the faith and devotion of the Church gathered from the nations.’ That is precisely what we are here at St Aidan’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Levenshulme, Manchester. We have been gathered from the nations, from different places, from different religions, from different Christian backgrounds, and brought into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Precisely because we have been gathered as a Church, we can take the risk of facing our own personal infirmities and asking the Lord Jesus Christ to heal them.
How does this healing take place? What do we have to do? Aside from the possibility of physical healing, we have to admit that each of us need to be healed in certain situations, from certain attitudes, in relation to certain goals in our lives. We are human. We have strengths and weaknesses.
The Roman Catholic Carmelite nun, Sister Ruth Burrows, opens the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2012, Love Unknown, with the words: ‘It is an abiding grief to me that many faithful religious people, even regular churchgoers, understand little of the great truth they sincerely profess to believe… There is a vast difference [she writes] between religion and … the secret call of the [Holy] Spirit to go beyond the externals [of religion] to a purer, deeper faith, to an encounter, mysterious by its very nature, with the living and true God revealed in Jesus Christ’. Sister Ruth raises the question which is the focus of the national Antiochian Conference in May—discipleship. She poses the key question, ‘What can be done to ensure the seismic shift from being just religious to ardent discipleship’?
I believe that question posed by Sister Ruth of how can we become committed disciples applies to all of us as Christians who profess a belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, because His willingness to enter into our lives can be joined to our willingness to enter into His life. Each of us, in this church today—child or adult, woman or man, layperson or priest, me or you—can become one with Jesus Christ now. It can happen as we go to Holy Communion and recognize the authority to heal which Jesus Christ holds and wishes to use in each of our lives.
Now, how do you become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? Sister Ruth reflects: ‘To cooperate with God in his great work of universal saving love must be our willed—not necessarily felt—desire and aim…Maybe someone is thinking sadly: “I have received no call. I wish I had.” Be certain [she writes] that to think [‘I want to be called’], to want it, is [itself] the call. His loving gaze rests on you. You have no excuse,” she writes, “Gird your loins and follow the Lord!”’
Some years ago my wife Sylvia and I experienced a call to go to live in Israel. We did answer that call and went to live in Israel for two years, where I taught in a Christian school in Tel Aviv. However, we then had to return to England because while we were there the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that anyone who was born into a Jewish family but had then chosen to be baptised as a Christian, as was true of me, was no longer, in the view of the Israeli Supreme Court, Jewish and was therefore ineligible for Israeli citizenship. We learned from that experience that you can be called into certain situations, as well as called out of those situations at a later date.
Now, I would be very surprised if any of you in this church today are called to go to Israel or to the West Bank with its many Arab refugees living in considerable poverty. It is possible, but it would be somewhat unexpected. However, you might find helpful precisely how Sylvia and I were called.
It was in 1990. We had attended a week-end conference led by the Bible teacher, Derek Prince, who always linked his Biblical teaching to a call for prayer. On this occasion, he asked everyone to pray an unusual prayer. He suggested that each of us acknowledge our dependence on God and pray: “Lord, if I am doing anything that blocks what you want to do in my life, show me.” That is a powerful prayer: “Lord, if I am doing anything that blocks what you want to do in my life, show me.” If you pray that prayer; and all you hear is silence, you should be very happy. If you pray that prayer, and the Lord tells you something important, it would be good to consult your spiritual father, to read the Bible carefully, to reflect with your friends and to consider how you might answer that call.
Let me conclude simply by pointing out that the Canaanite mother in today’s gospel was clearly called to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to heal her daughter. She answered that call. Jesus Christ then responded to her request; and her daughter was healed. We too can be healed today from whatever is troubling us if we trust Jesus Christ enough to ask Him to heal us or to heal someone we love.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.