“Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Matt 15:21-28.
This Sunday, we listen to a gospel passage about a Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus and her special plea for the healing of her daughter.
Last week we heard a cry from Saint Peter and his experience as he tried to walk on water, and called out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus replied: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
The difference here may be subtle for us. In the case of Simon Peter, he was a Jew, a special friend of Jesus, a close follower, and disciple. You would expect the assistance of a friend.
On the other hand, the Canaanite woman was from an alien tribe and an enemy to Jews; and in this episode in scripture, her pleas change Jesus, by saying: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps.” Here Jesus came to her aid: “O woman, great is your faith!”
For Jesus, and for each of us, carefully listening to the needs and hurts of others becomes our task as Christians.
Sometimes personal issues warrant our attention, and it may be simple to effect a solution.
However, there are historical and deeply felt hurts that must be the work of the whole community to be effective and bring about healing.
On Wednesday evening, this past week, I watched CNN coverage of the candlelight vigil held on the campus of the University of Virginia.
The thousands of college students and the citizens of Charlottesville were there to mourn the loss of Heather Heyer and two police officers who died in the line of duty.
The next day, the New York Times reported:
“Marchers – many of them college students – sang hymns, gospel songs, and other anthems of belonging, including ‘This Land is Your Land,’ ‘Lean on Me,” and ‘This Little Light of Mine.’”
The Times continued:
“The vigil was largely organized by word of mouth, and its leaders strove to keep the plans off of social media. The result was a warm gathering that provided some measure of relief to a college town left in turmoil by the weekend’s events.”
On Wednesday night as I watched the live-CNN coverage – I picked up that the college students did not know the precise lyrics to our nation’s most cherished spirituals and patriotic songs. Someone off camera shouted out the words for the crowd to follow along.
Ok, I’ll agree that the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic, “ are complicated and I would need the text in front of me.
Here’s the point, as a nation we have taken for granted many of our freedoms; and it’s been a long time since our last great awakening during the Civil Rights movement of the Fifties and Sixties when anthems like “We Shall Overcome” were known “by heart.”
As difficult as this time may be, a time for healing also becomes an occasion for learning, even these songs of protest — for a younger generation, your generation.
Our task here these first few days of school is to welcome our fellow students, and make certain this “community of welcome” includes those who are new or come from another country — whose background may be different; as well as those friends who are known to us already.
The end of summer vacation and the start of a new school year give us greater energy and maybe the time to set new, untested goals for the classroom or the athletic fields, or in artistic expression in music or theater. All of this requires persistence in intellectual, athletic and artistic pursuits.
Recall today’s gospel about this persistent mother asking for Jesus’s healing touch on her daughter.
So listen carefully to your fellow students, faculty and staff – meet their needs when you can, it may become the occasion of your spiritual learning.
After all – you have entered here to learn, and eventually — all of us are called to serve – each in his/her way.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.