- St. John's Church
Sunday, August 16 Readings
THIS WEEK’S READINGS
God Speaks to Families Through the Sunday Readings
The Lord reveals His salvation to all.
O God, O God, let all the nations praise You!
God’s favor to Israel is irrevocable.
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today we move ahead in our reading of Matthew’s Gospel. Last week we read about Jesus walking on the water and the disciples’ confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God. If we were reading Matthew’s entire Gospel, we would have read about Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees about Jewish purity laws. Jesus argues that it is not what goes into us that makes us unclean; He is referring to the strict Jewish dietary rules. Instead our words and our actions—what comes out of us—make us unclean because they emerge from a heart that is unclean.
Knowing about Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees helps us to understand today’s Gospel. In fact the story heightens the surprise and shock we feel as we hear Jesus’ exchange with the Canaanite woman. The woman, who is not Jewish, approaches Jesus, requesting that He heal her demon-possessed daughter. At first Jesus ignores her; He says nothing. The disciples ask Jesus to send her away and Jesus agrees, remarking that He was sent to minister to the Jews alone.
The woman persists, paying homage to Jesus and yet Jesus denies her request again. He even insults her, using a Jewish word of derision for Gentiles, “dog.” But the woman cleverly turns Jesus’ insult into an affirmation of faith. Only then does Jesus grant her request and heal her daughter.
Jesus’ unresponsiveness to this woman may strike us as uncharacteristic or shocking. Yet in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry is directed primarily to the people of Israel. At only a very few points, such as the one found in today’s Gospel, do we find Jesus anticipating the later Christian ministry to the rest of the world.
Behind Matthew’s text we can hear this early Christian community’s struggle to understand how God’s selection of Israel is consistent with two events: Israel’s rejection of Jesus and the Gen-tiles’ acceptance of Jesus. Just as Jesus was surprised by the faith expressed by the Canaanite woman, so too the first Christians were surprised that the Gentiles would receive the salvation God offered through Christ. In today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear the apostle Paul considering this same concern.
The faith that the Canaanite woman expresses is an affirmation of and confidence in God’s abundant mercy. Yes, salvation comes through Israel, but it overflows for the benefit of all.
Even when spurned by Jesus, the faith of the Canaanite woman makes her bold enough to argue and ask again for what she needs. Her persistence and great confidence that Jesus could heal her daughter reminds us of the confidence with which our children bring to us their own needs. In their faith and trust we can find modern examples of how we might approach God in prayer.
As a family recall some times when a request for something was presented by one family member to another with confidence and persistence. If the request was denied, talk about why that was so. If the request was eventually granted, talk about what led to the change of heart. Then read together today’s Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28. Was anyone surprised by Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman? Why or why not? What makes Jesus change his mind and heal the woman’s daughter? When we pray, God wants us to be as confident in His mercy. Invite family members to identify the things that they most need from God. Pray these prayers of petition together as a fami-ly, confident that God will hear and answer your prayers.