The Canaanite mother
A few years ago, an elderly monk arrived in India after fleeing from prison in Tibet. Meeting with the Dalai Lama, he recounted the years he had been imprisoned, the hardship and beatings he had endured, the hunger and loneliness he had lived with, and the torture he had faced. At one point the Dalai Lama asked him, “Was there ever a time you felt your life was truly in danger?” The old monk answered, “In truth, the only time I truly felt at risk was when I felt in danger of losing compassion for my jailers.”
There are enemies and then there are Enemies!
The Canaanites practiced of demon-worship, occult rites, child sacrifice and cannibalism. They sacrificed children to Molech, a Semitic god. Numerous bodies of children have been discovered in the foundations of buildings proving that offerings of this character were common among Canaanites to strengthen the walls of homes and cities. The priests of the Canaanites, to control the populace, claimed that the first-born children were to be sacrificed in flames to their demon gods (Isaiah 57:3-5).
Jezebel representing the model of all that is considered shameless, impudent, scheming and bloodthirsty, built a great temple with three altars, one for each Baal, Astarte and Molock. They were considered cursed and damned by the children of Israel. This is really not an area that you choose to visit for a period of spiritual retreat and renewal. But this is exactly where Jesus leads his disciples for safety and a period of rest.
The Canaanite woman, a desperate mother has heard of Jesus the healer and comes to intercede for her daughter who is “oppressed by a demon”. She has obviously been bugging the disciples who turn to Jesus asking him to “send her away”. Jesus replied to the disciples about being sent to the lost sheep of Israel, somehow touches a nerve in the disciples are sure the woman into the presence of Jesus.
Now we enter into this wonderful dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite mother. Jesus tells her that she is asking for something that is meant for somebody else; meant for another nation. Jesus is well aware of her desperation as any mother would be for the healing of her child. Jesus moves beyond the question of healing into the matter of food, of sustenance; first we feed those who are closest to us before considering the needs of other nations and peoples.
The woman’s response shows intelligence and a quick sense of humour and Jesus responds that “her faith has saved her”.
Jesus gives to his disciples, as he does to us, a new way of encounter with others, especially our enemies. This is a process that is widely used by our current Pope Francis; entering into the door of our adversaries; those we consider our enemies. Through compassion walking with them towards reconciliation, truth and life.
As long as we keep our compassion for the other, we can always move forward towards new life. This is a compassion that we need to find for the unclean, the oppressor and our enemies. Any other way leads only to darkness and death for both oppressed and oppressor. Jesus teaches us a new way; perhaps we do not like it and perhaps we may even find it offensive, but there is no other way to life and life to the full!
Jesus speaks to us today in South Africa as we clamber for rights and justice while at the same time tearing the fabric of our society apart. The gospel message calls us all to responsibility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, amends and reconciliation. This must begin in compassion.
Faith in Jesus and the Gospel message are the only ways to true peace and hope for our future.