Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then Jesus went thence and departed into the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same region and cried unto Him, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.’
Even in the far and distant place like the region of Tyre and Sidon, far to the north of Israel, definitely well within the territory of the Gentiles, Jesus cannot escape notice. Did He withdraw to this forbidden land, as some conjecture, to collect Himself and to re-charge spiritually? If so, it didn’t take long before He was found out by this woman, “a Greek,” as St. Mark says, “a Syro-phoenician by nation,” that is, “by birth” (Mk. 7:24-30). We know her as the Canannite woman, and we know her story best probably for her banter with our Lord Who had quipped that “’It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs’” to which this persevering soul in equal measure shot back, “’Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’” It is at this point in their encounter that our Lord declares of her – and says to us – just how great this supplicating woman’s faith is, despite the fact that she is not of Israel!
If we know our Old Testament (and I hope we do), we know that this woman hails from Canaan-land, that is, she comes from the land promised to Abraham by God when Abraham was commanded by God to pull up his tent pegs and to strike out to a land God would show him one day, where God would mightily bless him, and, in turn, Abraham would be a blessing to all of the tribes of the earth (Gn. 12:1-3).
This is the land God promised Moses at the burning bush encounter when God says to His Prophet-to-be that God has witnessed the severe affliction of His people in Egypt and heard their cries offered up for 400 plus years. So, God declares to Moses, “’I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey, unto the place of the Canaanites . . . .’” (Ex. 3:7-8).
This is the land 12 spies sent by Moses to surreptitiously survey reported how great the fruit of the land promised to Israel was indeed, but who also feared to trust the word of the Lord Who had mightily delivered them out of their bondage to Pharaoh by overthrowing Pharaoh and his army. These spies, except for Joshua and Caleb, all reported how the land of Canaan devoured its inhabitants and how all the men of that land were as giants to the spies who appeared like grasshoppers by comparison. So their report instilled terror in the hearts of Israel and faithless Israel was compelled to wander through the wilderness for 40 years – one year for each day the spies had spied out the land (Nm. 13:1-14:45).
This is the land that finally yielded to the sword of Joshua who displaced the inhabitants of that land and who, in turn, parceled out the land to each of the 12 tribes of Israel, according to the word of the Lord. This is the land promised from of old to Abraham and all his generations after him. Canaan-land, the Promised Land, the land of Israel. It became the archetype of Heaven, the land abounding in fruits, a land flowing with milk and honey, sweet Beulah Land (Is. 62:4), as it has come to be known by some, the land of beatitudes for all who dwell therein, a land of paradise where God and His people will dwell in sweet and holy communion.
This is the land of Canaan. But, before we go too far, let us also remember how this land and its inhabitants were known in Scripture as a wicked and evil people, a perverse people, a people of notorious and unspeakable sins. This was the land founded by Canaan, a son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Because Ham had sinned notoriously against Noah his father, Noah cursed Canaan the son of Ham, making Canaan subservient to all his brothers, and especially to Shem and his Semitic descendants, of whom Abraham was (Gn. 9:20-27). The land of Canaan, then, became a notorious land in spite of its paradisaical fertility, and its inhabitants, which included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, were infamous for their debauched and perverse lifestyles. They were a people whose religion was foremost a fertility cult and promoted free sex in its temples and at its sacred sites in order to arouse the deities to copulate and fertilize the earth. Their god, Baal, is well known to us. This depraved people practiced the abominable religious practice of child-sacrifice, unimaginable for many of us to even comprehend, until we recall just how many holy innocents have been slaughtered in the womb on the altar of individual rights, deemed sacred by so many so as to salve their consciences, and how these holy innocents have been denied their personhood all because they have not seen the light of day! Because of these wicked and vile acts, and the attractiveness of their fertility rites and cult, God commanded Israel not only to displace the inhabitants of Canaan, but to put them to death. It is only at the end of the book of Joshua that we see the gravity of Israel’s situation because they failed to do as the Lord had commanded them (Js. 24:30-36).
This, beloved, is the land of Canaan. This is the heritage and lineage of the woman who stands before Jesus, imploring His mercy as the Son of David, the Messiah, and beseeching on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, “’Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.’” She stands as a daughter of Canaan before the One Who is greater than His namesake, Joshua, long before who had come to conquer Canaan. This is Yeshua in Hebrew, Joshua, Jesus, Whose Name means “God is Saviour” or “God saves.” This Joshua, this Jesus, has indeed come to Canaan to conquer, but not like of old. He comes not to slay Canaanite men and women because of their abominations and notorious sins, but rather to kill death, to “trample down death by Death and to bestow Life”(Paschal Troparion; Hb. 2:14-15)! He comes to conquer the soul and to slay sin. He comes as God’s promised One (Gn. 3:15) to the Promised Land in order to “’heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’” (Is. 49:8-9; 61:1-2; Lk. 4:18-19). He comes, as the angel declared, to save from sin those entrapped and snarled by it (Mt. 1:21). He comes as Emmanuel – God with us – to a people – to sinners – enshrouded in darkness, sitting in death (Mt. 1:23; 4:15-16). He comes, this Jesus, Son of God and Son of David, to deprive the evil one of the high ground in this battle for the world. By partaking of our flesh and blood, He reunites man with God, and restores the communion of Paradise once enjoyed by Adam and Eve. Ultimately, He comes to “destroy the works of the devil” (Co. 1:13-14, 20; 1 Tm. 2:5; 1 Jn. 3:8).
So, the Canaanite woman who is of a once deplorable people, comes to the only One Who can help her and her daughter from the demonic possession. And, here, in this woman, a Gentile of notorious descent, Jesus finds faith, a faith not found in all of Israel (Mt. 8:5-13; Lk. 7:1-10)! It should not disturb us (because it didn’t seem to disturb her) that our Lord, our God-in-the-flesh Saviour, delays to answer her plea. He does so, say some of the Fathers, to draw out her faith and to reveal to us just how great her faith is and how miniscule ours so often is. Perhaps it also provides His Disciples – as well as us – with the occasion to take up interceding on behalf of others, as the Disciples do though maybe for less than the finest reasons. We are told elsewhere in Sacred Scripture that God’s “silence” or His seeming “delays” from our limited perspective means increased opportunity for repentance and growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pe. 3:3, 15, 18). We are assured that our God answers the cries of His people speedily according to His providence (Lk. 18:6-8).
The woman waits, whereas our faith or, as it is more than likely the case, our unbelief, becomes impatient with God and annoyed with Him Who is supposed to be “a good God Who loves mankind.” If He is indeed a “good God and loves mankind,” then we have this notion that He is obligated to jump to when we cry out. But, the woman waits. She perseveres because she knows Who this Joshua is, this Jesus. And, in the meantime, she humbles herself under the mighty hand of God (1 Pe. 5:6-7). She falls down before this Jesus Who has come to her land once riddled with indescribable and detestable sins, and she worships Him, imploring with all the simplicity of a little child before the master of the house, “’Lord, help me.’” It is the simplicity of profound humility that wins the day and reveals her to be a soul of great faith in the God of Israel through Whom salvation can be found alone and by Whom only salvation can come to the world (Jn. 3:16-17; 4:42; 11:27; Ac. 4:12; 1 Jn. 4:14).
“’Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David! My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.’” Jesus conquers, unlike Joshua of old, through His great compassion and mercy. He slays death and the devil through the fire of divine love enfleshed. He embraces this Canaanite woman, this Gentile “dog,” if you will, and He makes her – and all the rest of us who are just like her – an adopted child of God, a daughter of the New Eve. Once, we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; once, we had not obtained mercy, but now we have obtained mercy (1 Pe. 2:10). Once, we were, just like her, “without Christ, . . . aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus [we] who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” No longer, beloved, are we “strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the Household of God, . . . .” (Ep. 2:11-22). All because we dare to trust Jesus the Son of God and Son of David, Who has come to set us free from our bondage to sin, death, and the devil, to make us His own, to enlighten us with His divine Light (Jn. 1:4, 9). This saying, beloved, is indeed faithful “and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tm. 1:15-17).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Tm. 1:15-17