20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Eyes on Jesus
(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child, unless the child is a very fluent reader.)
The Gospel this week follows not long after Jesus saves Peter when he begins to sink beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples have travelled to a town where many of the people who live there are gentiles. This means they are not Jewish; they do not know the One True God. Jewish people, like Jesus and his friends, would not normally have much to do with gentiles. Usually, they keep themselves separate. One gentile, though, approaches Jesus:
Just then 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.”
This woman is doing something unusual. Gentiles do not usually speak with Jews. And women do NOT approach strange men and speak to them. Certainly, they do not shout at them! This woman is breaking all the customs. Why is she doing that? We know her daughter is not well. The woman says she is "tormented by a demon." Something is terribly upsetting her--it could be extreme worry, or fear, or illness. Whatever it is, it is not from God. And it seems that the gentile woman knows this.
Throughout the encounter with this woman, Jesus' actions and words are hard to understand. They are even mysterious. First,
he did not answer her at all.
The disciples want to send her away because she is bothering them. Jesus answers them, saying,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
This sounds like he does not plan to help her. The house of Israel does not include the gentiles.
When Jesus does speak to the woman, he says something strange about food for children and food for dogs. It does not seem very kind. He does not seem to be interested in her trouble. In this Gospel passage, it is hard to understand most of Jesus' actions and words.
Except two actions. Two of his actions are pretty clear.
One, he heals the woman's daughter. He answers the woman's need. Even when it seems like he will not, he helps. Jesus saves. This is most important--the gentile woman would say so, I think.
The other action that I think is just as important, is what Jesus does not do. He does not walk away. He may not answer right away, he may talk with his disciples first, he may seem unconcerned, but he does not turn away from her.
What can we learn from this? Jesus saves, and Jesus does not turn away.
When we look at the woman, we can learn even more. The woman comes to Jesus when she has trouble. Three times she speaks to him even though he does not answer at first, even though he speaks to his disciples instead, even though he seems unconcerned. She never takes her eyes off him. (Oh Peter, you could learn something from her! What if you had not taken your eyes off Jesus when you were walking on the water?!) Jesus notices this about the woman. He says,
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Great is her faith. She never takes her eyes off Jesus because she knows that help comes from him.
From this, we can learn something about prayer, I think. We pray our thanks when we are grateful, and we sing prayers of praise, telling how good, how great God is. And when we are in trouble, we keep our eyes on Jesus. We never stop praying. Like the gentile woman, we can tell God our troubles. Like the gentile woman, we can call to God to help us. Like the gentile woman, we can be confident that help comes from God.
And will Jesus say to us, "Woman, great is your faith!"?
No, he will call us by name, and help will come.