Sunday 16th August – Tenth Sunday after Trinity
The service is now live-streamed and can be found on the church Facebook page.
Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Jesus went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Post Communion Prayer
God of our pilgrimage,
you have willed that the gate of mercy
should stand open for those who trust in you:
look upon us with your favour
that we who follow the path of your will
may never wander from the way of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Reflection Trinity 10
This is an extraordinary story. This woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter; he objects that he has come only to the lost sheep of Israel and is apparently really quite abrupt with her. She persists and eventually he does as she asked.
What has happened? One explanation might be that she persuaded Jesus to make an exception. He has a rule but her faith is so strong that he makes an exception for her. ‘I have come only to the lost sheep of Israel and for you.’
There is, however, another way of understanding the story which I think is perhaps a bit more convincing. This incident is part of a slow transformation in the mission of Jesus. He had sent his disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel, but here he is in Gentile land. This story comes between the feeding of the five thousand, which is usually taken to be symbolic of the mission to the Jews, and the feeding of the four thousand, which is seen as pointing to the mission to the Gentiles.
So what is happening in this conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is not that he makes an exception. It is a moment in a gradual turning of Jesus to the Gentiles. And at the centre of this is the beautiful moment of his silence. She makes her request and, the gospel says, ‘he did not answer her at all.’ Jesus is silent.
There are all sorts of silences in the gospels. There is the silence of Jesus as he writes in the earth when the mob bring to him the woman caught in adultery. This is the silence that undoes the murderous passion of the lynch mob. There is the silence of Jesus during his trial by Pilate. This is the silence of the suffering servant of Isaiah, who opens not his mouth. This is the silence of endurance. There is the silence of the women when they find the empty tomb. They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. This is the silence of fear. And there is this silence of Jesus when faced with the Canaanite woman.
This silence is not a rebuff. He is silent because he is listening to her. It is rooted in his silent listening to his Father. St Ignatius of Antioch said that Jesus is the Word that sprung from the silence of the Father. It is the silence in which something new is germinating.
Jesus replies that he is sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and then when she kneels, he says to her that it is not fair for the children’s bread to be given to the dogs. These are not so much refusals of her request as testing the ground. He is feeling his way forward to a new answer, trying out the objections.
It takes time to open our hearts and minds to strangers and see them as brothers and sisters. The pace cannot be forced. We learn to listen to people with voices other than our own, discovering how close we actually are. All this requires a deep interior tranquillity in which in a new way of seeing the world can unfold.
Today we face all sorts of new questions. The coronavirus situation brings new questions on an almost daily basis. The ecological crisis is provoking new questions about our place in the world and our obligations to the environment.
We will only find our way forward to new and true answers if we learn how to be silent. We need silence in which to attend to those who question, and silence to attend to God and his Word. New questions can be frightening. We have to resist the temptation of the disciples, which is to get rid of the question, not to even entertain it. Just give her what she asks and she will leave us alone! We need that contemplative silence in which, by the grace of God, the new can happen in our lives.