How do you determine if a person is trustworthy? Can you actually perceive another person’s determination? How long do you have to know somebody before you realize they are truly loyal? Great friendships are built on honesty respect, acceptance, trust, sincerity, generosity, and probably 25 other important and key ingredients. Why is this any different than our relationship with the Lord? Another very important component is the element of time. Great relationships are also built over a long period of time. This also is no different than our relationship with the Lord.
The beginnings of relationships don’t always have that luxury of time. Take for instance hiring someone for a job. Finding that top-notched applicant not only requires a knowledge of the skill set, but a greater challenge is getting a handle on the intangibles mentioned above, namely the character of the person. Both parties have little time to size up these intangibles. Do you think it was any different in Jesus’ day? As time goes on, more and more people would be telling stories about this man Jesus. Then, putting yourself in the story, what happens to you on the day he comes to your village? How much time would it take you to build trust in this person having only heard about him, though you have never met him?
I think about this in terms of some of the stories we’ve recently listened to from Matthew’s Gospel. Specifically, today is that familiar story of the Canaanite woman. Like the others we have heard, this is a story of faith. It is finding the determination within oneself to push the envelope. This determination comes from within her. It is motivated with a voice which says, you Jesus, can do something about my daughter! She is driven. Did you notice how this nameless woman pursues Jesus? It’s not that their paths crossed haphazardly. She seeks him out. Why? Because her daughter is tormented by a demon. Secondly, she doesn’t allow religion to get in her way nor their differences in gender or culture. These differences are not going to be an impediment. She pursues Jesus because she knows he is a man of authority. He has authority over unclean spirits. Her daughter is tormented by a demon. She calls upon the authority of Jesus to do something about her situation.
The media today easily focuses on how polarized and divided we are as a society and a human race. We are divided politically, religiously, economically, educationally, let’s add to that categories of gender, race, language, location, age, music, and the list goes on. Frequently, we use these categories to set ourselves apart from others, to put others down, or to justify ourselves. There certainly were categories in Jesus’ day. But human need and desperation has a way of breaking down the heavy stones of these categories, opening the doors to compassion. Isn’t that what the Canaanite woman teaches us today?
As a Passionist, I’m always enlightened when I see suffering being redeemed. And sometimes it’s in the form of this specific gospel story. An experience of human suffering forces one to let go of one’s stubbornness which leaves them persistently locked in their categories. And finally free of that, one is capable of coming authentically to Jesus.
It seems to me we can learn a lot from this non-Jewish woman. How do we approach Jesus out of our need and not out of our agendas? Moreover, if we want to build a lasting relationship with the Lord, it will never work if we are banging our personal gavels. The end result is a much tighter relationship with the Lord and a more authentic faith. Putting down my agendas and my gavel means the only thing I have as I stand authentically before God are all those important and key ingredients for building relationship. Behold, my true love of the LORD is authentic and I discover in new ways how God cherishes life and delights in a level of spiritual maturity.
We see elements of this longevity even in today’s feast day. As the church celebrates the dedication of St. Mary Major. It is the oldest church in the West dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It dates back to the fifth century. Roughly 1300 years later a dejected and disappointed young man would stand before the painting of Mary (which some attribute to having been painted by St. Luke) and pour his heart out. He would make a vow there before the icon to trust God’s inspiration by promoting the memory of the passion of Jesus and to work to gather companions for this purpose. His name, —St. Paul of the Cross.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.