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The Canaanite Woman
fr_basil
Sermon on: The Canaanite Woman
Matthew 15: 21-28
February 3, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Glory to Jesus Christ!
Before talking about the Canaanite woman and today’s Gospel, I’d like to look briefly at another section in another Gospel – Chapter 11 of St Luke. Luke 11 begins with the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. And what does He teach them? “Our Father, Who art in heaven...” That’s right, the Lord’s Prayer. And then what happens? Immediately the Lord gives them a parable: “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;  and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are...in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’ I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (Luke 11: 5-8).
In other words, it wasn’t friendship that roused the man from his bed to render aid, it was because his friend continued to pound on the door and cry out to him that he got up. It was persistence.
What comes next in chapter 11 of Luke? The Lord then says: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11: 9-10).
This is how most translations have it, and they’re wrong. Why? Because the Greek says: “So I say to you, keep on asking, and it will be given to you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who continues to ask receives, and those who continue to seek find, and to those who continue to knock it will be opened.”
Why is this important? Because it teaches persistence: persistence in prayer, persistence in seeking God, persistence in asking God for help. We don’t just say the Lord’s prayer once. We repeat it many times during the course of the day and at least once during every divine service.
The Canaanite woman, (who is called Justa in an ancient epistle ascribed to Clement of Rome,) has a daughter, (named Verenika in the same epistle) who is demon-possessed. Now Justa is presumably a pagan. Yet, this remarkable pagan woman put the Household of God to shame when she cried out to Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” She asks Jesus to hear her plea by declaring Him to be both God and the Christ, both God and the Messiah! And how did Jesus react? He pretended not to hear her. So what did she do? She cried out again even louder, annoying the disciples. What does Jesus do? He tells her that He was sent only to the Jews...never mind that He was currently stand on Gentile ground! So what does she do? She cries out even louder, calling Him, again, “Lord,” and begging for His help. That’s when the Lord replies with the curious reply that “the children’s bread should not be given to the puppies!” Yes, it’s “puppies.” I’ve told you this before, probably every time this reading comes up. And what happened to the leftover food on the table, and especially the spilt food from the places where the kids sat? Right, it DID, eventually go...where? That’s right, to the puppies, the kitties, the pets. Jesus was testing her and she knew it. She entered quite willingly and quite happily into this test, because she had faith that Jesus was going to do for her what she asked Him to do – deliver her daughter from the grips of a demon. Jesus knew two very important things about Justa, she had strong faith and she had even stronger persistence in her prayer! Jesus wanted His disciples, and all those others standinging around, to know just what faith and persistence looked like!  St. John Chrysostom says that her success in obtaining her daughter’s healing was due to her persistence.”
Persistence in prayer is hard. Perseverance in prayer is work. Waiting for God is difficult. Not getting what we want right away is disappointing. But we need to learn the same lesson that the disciples needed to learn from the Canaanite woman, right? Persevere and endure. Force yourself.
St. Ambrose of Optina says: “If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to do it, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (Matt. 11:12).”
And St. Macarius the Great says: “The person who daily forces himself to persevere in prayer becomes enflamed with Divine passion and fiery desire emanating from a spiritual love for God, and receives the grace of the sanctifying perfection of the Spirit.”
May God bless us all with the grace to follow the example of the Canaanite woman. Let us imitate her strong faith. Let us imitate her courage to draw near to Christ despite many obstacles. And most of all, let us imitate her persistence and perseverance in prayer, so that the demons flee far away from us, and the “grace of the sanctifying perfection of the Spirit” comes instead. Amen.