written by Teresa Donati
Lent is the time we look more closely at the sufferings and sacrifices of Our Lord, His ministry, His death, the arc of a fully-lived human life which happened to be the life that shook our universe.
So when a dearest and most loved friend is grievously ill, when her months have been spent in pain and in the brutal course that medicine calls ‘treatment’ or ‘remission’ or ‘cure,’ what can we pray for except mercy. How do we pray except wordlessly with grief.
Often in these crises, ‘bargaining’ goes on: do this for me, God, and I’ll do that for you. Except, ultimately, we have no chips to bargain with. We have only our despair, our broken hearts. Even our hopes are surrounded by superstition. Tribal memories of hope as a defiance of the will of the gods, seems to descend.
And then, if we hope too much, will we be fools to think that hope alone will change God’s course? Where do we look for a story like ours?
Well, there is the Canaanite woman.
Only one person in the scriptures changed Jesus’ mind, and this was a Canaanite woman whom Jesus likened to a dog. We read in Matthew 15 of this woman, the mother of an afflicted daughter. ‘…she worshipped him,’ meaning she probably got on her knees to plead with Jesus to heal her daughter, to drive out the devil that possessed her beloved child. No insult was going to turn her away,
At that time, Jesus was in the region of Tyre and Sidon, our modern Lebanon, just north of Israel’s modern borders. He was probably tired, maybe grouchy, at the end of his energies. He had probably gone there for refuge. He needed some time away from the crowds and demands that surrounded him daily, and the possibility that he would be killed by the powers he challenged.
Tyre and Sidon: also a land that had no particular love for Jews.
So, sitting with his disciples, this Savior of the World sees a woman approach. He hears her words, this plea. But she was not a daughter of Israel. His reply to her was that he did not come for such as her. His words were mean, cutting, to a woman whose daughter was mentally ill, suffering. You would think He made His point.
But there is no sign that she moved an inch when his hurtful words were leveled at her. This Man, she knew, somehow, some way, could cure her daughter.
Call me a dog if you will, she said, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their masters’ tables.
She may have said it humbly, or defiantly; her voice was maybe a whisper, maybe a rasp. Her love for her daughter was greater than any self-pride, it was indifferent to any mockery. She did not move, she persisted, stoically, determinedly; her hope never wavered.
And oh, the result.
I am writing this on March 8th, International Women’s Day, and here in the scriptures is an overlooked hero of that commemoration. Yes, Jesus healed her daughter. He changed his mind, and it was the Canaanite who, by faith, shamed Jesus’ followers who sat with him.
It is a clue, it is the greatest example of throwing oneself on the mercy of God, for the sake of another. That is the prayer, I think: the death of one’s own pride, the willingness to endure whatever scorn we must endure, even if God seems distant, unwilling, unhearing.
I wonder. The story makes me begin to pray a new way: in abject forgetfulness of self. Yes, abject, a word much disliked by modern people in describing themselves.
Will it work? Time will tell. I weep and grieve and summon all my willpower not to break down as I am shopping or attending church or returning library books or writing this meditation on my best friend’s perilous days ahead. Her determination is Canaanite. I am reminding God that a Divine mind can be turned. Even if its original intent was to leave her to death, to bring her to life.
Her fight has been brave beyond any words. She has held her ground. Remember the Canaanite woman, I whisper, daring to demand God’s attention, and why not. This is our Women’s Day. Presents, flowers, candy, yes.
But most of all, the healing breath of the Holy Spirit making well again what has been so sorely tried, so afflicted with suffering. We hold our ground, and tell God, ‘Remember!’