Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – 2020

My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!

We have been hearing a lot in the Gospel about responsibility in the past few weeks – responsibility as understood in several ways. That is, responsibility both as something that we should do, responsibility as a duty, but also responsibility in the plain sense as the ability to make answer, the ability to respond, response-ability.

In the Scriptures, our Lord gives us an image of this response-ability, the ability to make answer, when He says: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Take for a moment this image of standing at the door and knocking. This action, this action of knocking at the door, it creates within the person who is within the house, hearing it, precisely what we we’ve been hearing about: that is, it brings about a state of responsibility. The person in the house, hearing a knock on the door, is placed in a state of being able to respond, to go over, to open the door, to encounter the person on the other side of the door, and to let that person into the house.

Now, of course, just hearing the knock does not take away the free will of the person who hears it, even if it brings responsibility to that person. They are not compelled to respond. They’re not forced to respond. They don’t have to open the door. They could just creep over to the door, look through the peephole to see who is on the other side, and then not respond.

At the same time, the person on the other side of the door could then continue to knock, to knock more urgently. Sometimes the quality of a knock on the door can determine whether the person who hears it wants to open the door.

You hear a vicious pounding on the door? You’re much less likely to want to open it up. But if you hear a knock with an urgency, a persistence? Even if you weren’t too inclined initially to stop what you were doing and go and open the door, that urgency and that persistence lead you to responding. Persistence.

And that persistence is what we hear about in the Gospel today, the persistence of a Canaanite woman who was following after our Lord as He and His disciples passed through the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
She was the one who was knocking, and with persistence, this Canaanite woman. For our Lord is not the only one who knocks. Our Lord tells us to do the same. He tells us in the Gospel: Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.

We hear of this Canaanite woman in the Gospel, following after our Lord, crying out to Him: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil.” But the Gospel says that the Lord “answered her not a word.”

Even further, the Gospel tells us that our Lord’s disciples asked Him to send the woman away. She was annoying them, constantly crying out after them. Our Lord said, “I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.”

The woman – a Canaanite, and not of the house of Israel – was undaunted. This didn’t stop her. She persisted. She runs up to the Lord Himself, she adores Him, as the Gospel tells us, and says simply: “Lord, help me.”

Keep those words in mind if you are ever at a loss for words to pray. “Lord, help me.” These are the words with which we can knock on the door of the Heart of God Himself, just as the Canaanite woman does. “Lord, help me.”

We hear then that the Lord responds. But His response at first seems not all that encouraging. He says to the Canaanite woman: “It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.”

It seems harsh to hear this, it is true. This woman is asking our Lord for help, and He essentially here refers to her people as dogs. But our Lord says this so that we might ultimately have testimony of the ministry of His earthly life, that is, to the house of Israel. But even more, He says this that we might have testimony of the persistence and the faith of the Canaanite woman. And even more than this, this is a testimony to the humility of the Canaanite woman, this woman who – even if not of the house of Israel – here persistently knocks on the door of the heart of the Son of David, asking for His mercy. And mercy is given to the humble, not to the proud.

And we see that the Canaanite woman responds in genuine humility, and in genuine persistence, accepting the words the Lord Himself, applying them to herself, saying, “Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”

She says, in effect, “even if I am a dog, You are my Master; and even the dogs might find satisfaction in the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” How many of us would be so quick to accept such an abasement? Such a humbling? Here, the Canaanite woman does so, without missing a beat. Such was her persistence, such was her love for her daughter, and such was her faith that the Lord could heal her.

And the Lord said: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.”

Here we see the fruit of persistence. The necessity of faith. The duty to put our love and our care into action, just as the Canaanite woman put her love and her care for her daughter into action, even at the risk of being considered annoying – as she was by the disciples. Even at the risk of being humiliated – as she might have been, being compared to the dogs. But she was not humilitated, for she already was a humble woman. Her first entreaties to the Lord show us that. Remember what she said first? “Have mercy on me, O Lord,” and “Lord, help me.” Humility and persistence.

Humility and persistence. Let these be our watchwords as we go forward and face the trials and responsibilities that we might have this week. Let us face our own challenges ever calling out to the Lord with humility and with persistence, saying with the Canaanite woman: “Have mercy on me, O Lord. Lord, help me.”

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