“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20).
The other morning, I was watching Mass online during lockdown as I was praying for someone who is dear to me who was sick in hospital. I do not particularly enjoy watching Mass online, as I feel disconnected from the Sacrament, but I watched that morning, on the Feast Day of Saint John Vianney, and as I watched, I listened to the Gospel reading that day (Matthew 15:21-28).
In this Gospel reading we hear the story of the Canaanite woman who followed behind Christ and His disciples shouting out unabashedly for His intercession for her daughter who was possessed of a demon.
I have always loved this story and this time was no different. I have enjoyed reflecting on it in the weeks since I first heard that reading. After all, my cultural background is Lebanese, and as the Canaanite woman was a Lebanese woman, I experience a sort of kinship with this woman who cried out after my Beloved and changed His mind.
Having Lebanese cultural heritage, I can understand why this example was selected in the Gospel, because though it is a wonderful demonstration of faith and results in Christ’s proclamation to save Gentiles as well as Jews, there is another reason why we hear about it…
You see, we Lebanese people are a proud people. In the Lebanese culture there is a strong fixation on the outward appearance of things. This is not to say that we are a superficial people who do not care about in-depth things, but what it means is that we do not like to “air our dirty laundry in public.” My husband and I often remark that our own children are more Australian than Lebanese because they certainly seem to have no qualms about disgracing themselves in public!
So, it is a BIG DEAL for the Canaanite woman to stand out in the street and SHOUT out to a whole bunch of strange and foreign men terrible things about her own child!
She was basically proclaiming to those men and to her whole village and to all other Canaanite people that her daughter was never going to be an eligible bride for anyone. No man in that village or in the Canaanite community would ever want to marry a woman who had been possessed of a demon, even if the demon was exorcized. No neighbours would want to visit that woman’s home for fear of being connected to their disgrace. She had totally isolated herself from her community. If the woman had other children, nobody would want to marry them either because the people in that community would believe that perhaps the condition of the one child was a reflection of another.
What that Canaanite woman was really doing – by calling our so loudly after that group of men led by GOD HIMSELF – was publicly shaming herself and her entire family in her effort to save her child.
Under the circumstances and in those days, her husband would have had the right to beat her for the disgrace that she brought upon him and his family when he heard about it later.
The Canaanite woman did not care. She would not be silenced.
She was embarrassing! She embarrassed herself. She embarrassed her family. She embarrassed her friends. She embarrassed her community. She embarrassed the disciples. In fact, the only person who she did NOT embarrass was GOD…
For Christ was not embarrassed by her hounding. He was impressed…
When Christ remarked on that woman’s faith, it was not because she continued to banter with Him after he refused to intercede for her daughter asking for the crumbs from the Master’s table, it was because SHE GAVE AWAY EVERYTHING to follow after and shout out to Him. She gave away her whole life on the FAITH that He would help her.
And it was for THIS FAITH of a crazy old Canaanite woman who was railing like a lunatic in the street, CHANGED the mind of the Son of Man!
This was not the first time that a woman had changed the mind of God, and neither would it be the last!
After all, earlier in the Gospels we are told of the Marriage Feast at Cana, where Christ told His Blessed Mother that His hour had not yet come after she observed to Him the lack of wine. She turned to the servants with faith and told them to do what He commanded.
And then He PERFORMED the FIRST OF HIS SIGNS!
And even later, Saint Monica prayed for her wayward son, who she believed was possessed of the demon of lust not for one year or two or even ten or twenty or thirty. Saint Monica cried out to God for 31 long years. It took God 31 years to turn around and answer Saint Monica.
And then, when He did answer her, His answer was to make her son a Doctor of the Church!
You see – though God is unchanging and unchanged – for love of us and our faith in Him… The unchangeable will change.
I guess that is why we say that Faith can move mountains.
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.