Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Great Is Your Faith! Let It Be Done As You Wish.

Reading 1
Numbers 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35

The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,]
“Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.
You shall send one man from each ancestral tribe,
all of them princes.”

After reconnoitering the land for forty days they returned,
met Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the children of Israel
in the desert of Paran at Kadesh,
made a report to them all,
and showed the fruit of the country
to the whole congregation.

They told Moses: “We went into the land to which you sent us.
It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.
However, the people who are living in the land are fierce,
and the towns are fortified and very strong.
Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there.
Amalekites live in the region of the Negeb;
Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites dwell in the highlands,
and Canaanites along the seacoast and the banks of the Jordan.”

Caleb, however, to quiet the people toward Moses, said,
“We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so.”
But the men who had gone up with him said,
“We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.”
So they spread discouraging reports among the children of Israel
about the land they had scouted, saying,
“The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants.
And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants
(the Anakin were a race of giants);
we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”

At this, the whole community broke out with loud cries,
and even in the night the people wailed.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:
“How long will this wicked assembly grumble against me?
I have heard the grumblings of the children of Israel against me.
Tell them: By my life, says the LORD,
I will do to you just what I have heard you say.

Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall.
Forty days you spent in scouting the land;
forty years shall you suffer for your crimes:
one year for each day.
Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me.
I, the LORD, have sworn to do this
to all this wicked assembly that conspired against me:
here in the desert they shall die to the last man.”

Matthew 15: 21-28

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.

His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”

He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”

He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”

She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”

Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.

+++    +++    +++    +++  

In today’s First Reading, the LORD tells Moses to send a dozen men, one from each tribe of Israel, to reconnoiter the land of Canaan. Forty days later they return and make their report: This land is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and we have brought back delicious fruit. But the people who live there are fierce warriors and the towns are well fortified. Caleb, leader of the expedition, recommended attack, but most of the other scouts warned against it, and their option prevailed.

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron: I have heard the grumblings of the Israelites against me. Tell them: You spent forty days scouting the land; you will spent forty years in this desert, suffering for your stubbornness. As for the twelve members of the scouting party, none of them will survive to enter the Land of Promise.

There is a parallel between the attitude expressed by the LORD in today’s First Reading and the attitude expressed by Jesus in the gospel. The mission of Moses was to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land. Nations that opposed them were conquered; those who rebelled against Moses’ leadership were exiled, in this case for forty years, because of their stubbornness. In the gospel, the mission of Jesus is to the people of Israel, not to the pagan people of the land to the north.

Commentators on the scriptures give many and varied reasons for Jesus’ attitude toward the Canaanite woman and her ailing daughter : These are some of the points they make:

• Jesus needed to rest, and to have time to teach his disciples, so he was “off-duty”.
• In Mark’s version of this incident, he said that the children of Israel had to be fed first.
• He made no attempt to convert the woman to Jewish beliefs, as other teachers might have.
• He wanted to distinguish himself from the many wandering “wonder-workers” who were all too willing to perform healing rituals for the sake of fame or financial reward.
• The reference to “dogs” was not intended as a racial snub, but to children’s pets, whose needs would be secondary to those of the children.

The only consistent element among these comments is that they represent the opinions of the commentators. Other than that, they are “speculative at best”, an expression one of my professors used as a more genteel version of “pure guesswork”.

We close with the words of Saint Augustine: “The woman was ignored, not that mercy might be denied but that desire might be enkindled; but not only that desire might be enkindled, but … that humility might be praised.”

At the end of the day, Jesus granted this foreign pagan woman’s prayer, and praised her confidence – we might even say her faith. This is certainly a challenge to any intellectual definition of faith, since true faith is not mere assent to the conclusion of a logical syllogism, but commitment to conversion. Like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:25-29), this Canaanite woman became aware of Jesus’ identity long before any of the disciples (Matthew 16:16).

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