Home / SERMONS & HOMILIES ARCHIVE / 17th Sunday of Matthew: The Canaanite Woman; Matt 15:21-28

17th Sunday of Matthew: The Canaanite Woman; Matt 15:21-28

Today’s Gospel passage reveals to us the significance of one’s faith and humility in God.

The story describes how our Lord went away from Galilee and withdrew to the north of Israel, to the borders of the ancient towns of Tyre and Sidon which are in modern day Lebanon. Christ hoped that here, away from Jewish cities, He could find the repose His disciples needed since He was so popular in Jewish territory.

But in this area a Canaanite woman approached our Lord.

She had evidently heard of Jesus’ fame as a healer and was desperate that He would come to see her daughter, who was severely demon-possessed. The woman knew that Jesus was her only hope.

 This mother had gone to all the doctors in the region, she had spent all her fortune and possessions, and still no one could help her. So, being disappointed that society couldn’t help she sought the Lord with the assurance that, only He could heal her daughter.

With great faith and drive, she pleaded the Lord to come to the region of Tyre and heal the child.

But the Lord, hearing the mother’s plea became silent. He did not answer a word. He did this to test the strength of the woman’s faith, and was thinking of His disciples need for rest.

The Canaanite mother however was not discouraged by this and persisted with faith, begging for the Lord to help her daughter. Even the Lord’s disciples were tired of her perseverance, when they urged Him to “Send her away, for she cries out after us” (Matt 15:23).

Seeing the Canaanite woman’s fiery faith, the Lord became even more subtle in testing her faith, as He evaluated her endurance even further. He did this to highlight just how dedicated and steadfast her faith was. Truly, how patient, how humble and how persistent was this woman!

She fell at His feet, worshipping Him and pleading Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” (Matt 15:25).

Through Jesus’ method and response to her concern, the faith and humility of this woman are shown and taught to us in two ways. Firstly, in that Jesus’ hesitancy was not enough to discourage her. Secondly, the woman did not argue with the Lord. She shrewdly agreed with His replies (Matt 15:24, 26). The children’s meal need not be interrupted or pre-empted: but while the children were eating, ‘even the little dogs might be allowed to eat from the crumbs falling from their lord’ table’. In other words, she discerned that Jesus was reluctant to deprive His spiritual children and disciples of their rest, to accompany her to the pagan city of Tyre to heal her child. She respected that Jesus wanted to let the disciples rest, but she believed that Jesus could heal her daughter here, from a distance.

 So, the Lord seeing the greatness of her faith and humility granted her request, and she went home to find her daughter was cured from that very hour in which Christ spoke (Matt 15:28).

Jesus answered her and said: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire” (Matt 15:28). While others thought Jesus had to be present to heal (cf. Matt 8:8-10) this pagan woman believed such a healing be done from afar.

The Canaanite woman here is rewarded for her powerful faith. The Lord tested this woman and then gave her the greatest compliment.

Her persistence of faith bore fruit because she approached the Lord with the attitude of courage, perseverance, humility, and absolute faith in God and not in humanity.

Her faith was even declared by the Lord as “great” (Matt 15:28) because she was persistent but humble, even as the Lord kept silent! She was not put off by this and it was not enough to discourage her or argue with Him.

Within her heart she knew that the Lord would come to her need for help. The woman’s faith indicated not only her deep love for her daughter, but also a deep and unshakeable belief in the Lord, our God. She knew that her belief and faith in the Lord was the only solution. Her faith never wavered, even in the time of trial, as the Lord tested her again and again.

Her daughter’s freedom from the evil spirit was the result of her undeniable faith in the Lord. So, she shows us how a person’s faith can save more than oneself. Her faith brought unity and happiness to her family.

Dear friends, the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel sought and found help from God through her assiduous faith and humility. This is the exact kind of faith the Lord expects all of us to possess.

St Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). In this gospel God has revealed to us the source of our faith, His power, and our task, to humble ourselves constantly. He healed a daughter from a hopeless situation and at the same time He renews and encourages our weak faith, by highlighting the rewards of those who diligently seek Him.

To humble ourselves constantly: that is our task! The Lord said: ‘He who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Matt 23:12; cf. Ezek 21:26). But only God can exalt, like He did to this Canaanite woman and her daughter.

We as faithful Christians should never doubt. There is no room for doubt in matters of faith, only believe, only hope in Him! And pray without shame, but with sincerity, humility and courage.

With stern faith we are released from the frailty of our weak will and the choices of choosing evil, over the good will of God. In this way we progress toward perfection and union with God.

Every person has the need of God always. Have we ever paused to consider the cause for the Lord not responding to our various needs and certain circumstances, is in fact our lack of faith and firm resolve in being patient and believing in Him during times of trials. He may test our faith sometimes so that we can shine under the circumstances, and in order to teach us how much we truly love Him, and how He saves us in the end if we allow Him to.

 I remember an account whereby one man over a period of years had a lack of faith and asked an elder what was the cause of it. The elder replied: ‘You depend too much on worldly reason, and forget God is everywhere and this waver’s your faith’. In light of this St Isaiah the Solitary said: “If your intellect is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you. If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated”.[1]Dear friends, we must place our lives in the hands of God with total trust and faith, and we must look at each individual suffering as a gift from God. For he who has faith in God is always joyful, even in sickness, even in huger! One believes that God has allowed these things to take place.

Therefore let us struggle to be like the mother in today’s gospel. Let us never waiver in our faith. Let our love for the Lord never weaken. Let no philosophies and doctrines of this world divert us in following Christ.

Let us have no fear that the Lord will refuse to answer our pleas. And may our faith be always as strong as that of the Canaanite woman, through humility and firm belief.

[1] St Isaiah the Solitary, On Guarding the Intellect Twenty-Seven Texts: Philokalia Volume 1.


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