Deals with the Divine

Homily 581 – 36 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 11, 2024
Epistle – (280-ctr) 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Gospel – (62) Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

This Canaanite Woman – not a Jew, a gentile, not able to participate in the Temple, or any of the Jewish rituals – this woman is a brave figure.  She has, what they say in Yiddish, chutzpah.

Here she was, a minority, a foreigner in the land of Judea, the land of the Jews, and yet she had the audacity to approach Christ.  She knew she wasn’t worthy of Him, at least by the definitions of the day.  She was a woman, and not a Jew.  Two strikes.

She pestered the disciples of Jesus, trying to get the attention of Jesus.

And from that pestering, and from her humility, characterizing herself as a dog, she got what she was after.  From this event, there are two things I want to think about.

First, she didn’t pretend she was worthy.  She didn’t present Christ with a resume of good works, or religious achievements.  She didn’t say that she tithed or prayed three times a day, or fasted when she was supposed to fast.

None of the things that the Jews thought were necessary to receive a blessing from God.

We tend to do that.  We tend to say, Look, God, look at what I’m doing – or, more likely, we make promises about what we will do.  We bargain with God.  And depending on how important the thing is to us, we offer something that we believe to be equally impressive to God.

We beg for our lives and promise God that if we survive, we will never miss church again, or we will become a monastic, or we will become a missionary and tell everyone about the miracle.

Or maybe we want a job, and we’ll offer something lesser, like promising to say our prayers every morning and night.

Maybe we are suffering, and we tell God that if he will remove our suffering, and heal us, we will do something significant for Him.  We’ll donate everything we own to the Church.  Interesting thing about those promises – we don’t generally keep them, do we?  We don’t see people lining up to join the monasteries, or emptying their bank accounts.  We barely have people agreeing to avoid sin.

The wonderful aspect of this witness on behalf of this woman was that it shows us none of those things are necessary – even though they are what we are supposed to do anyway.

The woman shows us that we depend not on ourselves, our actions, our behaviors to receive healing from God.  Quite the opposite.  We rely completely on God’s mercy for us.  St. Paul reinforces this idea in the letter to Timothy which we read earlier.  Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And he called himself the first of sinners.

In the underlying language, it is really stressing the reality of sin, to the point of implying St. Paul is the only sinner.  And that isn’t false humility.

Paul recognizes what so few of us do.  Regardless of our actions, nothing will remove our sin from us.  Nothing.  We have to repent.  Paul tells us that this is to reveal Christ’s patience with us – never ending, never exhaustible patience.  Patience for what?

Our repentance.  Our humility.  Our recognition that we can’t change anything, and we have to rely on the Creator to take our effort and change us.

This is what the woman states to Christ.  Even the dogs, she says, get to eat the scraps from the master’s table.  And Christ says that this statement, by itself, demonstrates her faith.  So it describes faith to us.

Faith is, first and foremost, not just mental assent to a set of facts about and untested or unproven ideas.  It is the altering of our life’s trajectory because they are true.  She doesn’t say, “I believe.” But rather she tells us the implications of her belief in reality – both who she is, and who Christ is.  It is really quite dramatic.

So, our actions do not earn anything for us.  Period.  Our repentance doesn’t earn anything for us.  Repentance for a Christian should be as necessary as oxygen or heartbeat.  It is what brings us life.  Not a reward.

So, the second point is that the Canaanite Woman wasn’t asking for herself.  It was about her daughter, tormented.  Innocent.  Nothing quite so horrifying to us as the suffering of children.

And in God’s eyes, we are all His Children.  The way we feel about our own children, or the children around us, is the same that God feels about us – even the ancient like me.

Jesus told God He’d rather not die, but would if God deemed it necessary.  I’m equally confident that this woman, and many of us, would prefer not to debase and humiliate ourselves, but would if God deemed it necessary.

And He does.  He totally does.  Why?  Because as the Canaanite woman demonstrates, we are made to love.  Not ourselves, but God, and the things and beings that God created.

Why can’t we love ourselves?  It’s a good question.  On some level, loving ourselves isn’t really love.  If we can call it selfishness, should we call it at the same time love?  How can selfishness and love exist together?

We need to rethink what love is.  Love is what St. Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.