Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Priests)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Lord speaking to us through the Scriptures to remind us to keep our faith in Him strong, despite the challenges and difficulties we may encounter in life. In the Scripture passages we heard from both the Old Testament and the New Testament today we can see the contrast between what happened in the time of the Exodus and at the time of the Lord Jesus.
In the first reading today, we listened to the story of Caleb and his fellow men chosen to be those who would scout ahead of the whole nation of Israel to see the land promised to them and their ancestors, the land known as Canaan. They saw the whole land and saw the people who lived in them, and except for Caleb, the rest of the scouts came before the Israelites and made them to fear the Canaanites because they seemed to be so powerful and tough, and they made the whole nation to go against God and Moses.
And all these happened despite God having provided for them throughout the whole journey and guided them through the difficult moments, liberating them with great power from the hands of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh, and brought them out of the land of Egypt, providing for them and their needs along the way, giving them manna to eat and water to drink in the middle of the desert.
God has done so much for His people and yet, they refused to believe in Him and did not want to trust Him. They became fearful and refused to enter the land promised to them because they did not have strong and genuine faith in God. They thought rather in human and worldly terms, fearing that they were not powerful enough to overcome the many people living in Canaan at that time, some of whom were described as powerful and mighty, even like giants in appearance.
Then, we heard from our Gospel passage today, the irony of having one of the same Canaanite, or in another source, a Syro-Phoenician, which corresponded to the region of Canaan itself, who actually had such a strong and genuine faith in God, surpassing the faith of all those who have called themselves as the chosen people and the chosen race of God. And for this to come from a Canaanite and a woman was indeed special, to the point of being revolutionary and breaking prejudices held at that time.
The Canaanite woman begged the Lord to heal her daughter and cast out the demon that had been tormenting her. But the Lord’s response to her seemed to be not just cold and unfeeling, but in fact could be seen as rude and being condescending, if we do not understand the context and the purpose of why the Lord Jesus made such a reply to her. The Lord’s intention with such a remark was in fact to show all of His disciples the kind of prejudice that the people of Israel had against the Canaanites that kind of mirrored what they had exhibited all the way from the time of the Exodus.
The Israelites took great pride in the fact that they were a people chosen by God, and the remnants of that once great people by the time of Jesus, namely the Jewish people in Judea and Galilee often looked down and despised the foreigners living in and around them, from the Samaritans to the Syrians, Phoenicians and all other peoples whom they deemed to be outside of the exclusive group chosen by God.
It was in fact so bad that the Lord showed perfectly just how prejudiced and unbecoming their judgmental attitude against the non-Jewish people or the Gentiles. He used a comparison with dogs to refer to the non-Jewish people and how food from the table of the house should not be given to them, a reference to the blessings and the salvation found in God. But yet, the woman remained persistent and showed her genuine faith by humbling herself before the Lord.
It is an irony that the Canaanite woman had greater faith than the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, as the latter became fearful and panicked when they saw the people in the land promised to them by God and having seen all the wonders that God had done for them all those while. And those people thought that the Canaanites were godless and unworthy people when that Canaanite woman mentioned in the Gospel probably put all of them to shame in the matter of faith.
Today, all of us are called to follow the example of the faithful Canaanite woman who had faith in the Lord and devoted herself wholeheartedly to Him, despite of the rejection and refusal she seemed to be getting. She remained firm in her resolution to be faithful and to trust in God, unlike the Israelites who had wavered in their faith so easily just because of some challenges they were to face ahead of them.
On this day, perhaps we should also look upon the examples set by two saints whose feast we celebrate this day, namely that of Pope St. Sixtus II, a martyr of the early Church and also St. Cajetan, a holy priest and founder of the Theatines religious order. Their faith and dedication to the Lord through their lives should be inspirations for us to follow in how we should live out our own lives as well.
Pope St. Sixtus II was martyred together with several other martyrs during a harsh persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Valerian in the early days of the Church, when many of the faithful suffered grievously just because they believed in God. And as their shepherd, Pope St. Sixtus II courageously stood by his faith in the Lord and committed himself totally to Him, that he did not budge from his faith even under the threat of suffering and death.
Meanwhile, St. Cajetan was a holy and dedicated priest, who followed the Lord’s call and ministered to the poor and the people who were less fortunate and troubled in the society, and co-founded the religious order later on known as the Theatines, with people who had similar calling and passion to help with the needs of those people who were often looked down by others in the community.
Now, having seen the faith present in all these people we have discussed about today, let us all be inspired by their examples and grow to have the same kind of faith in us, in our sincere and genuine belief and commitment towards God. Let us all put our trust in God and no longer doubt His providence and love from now on. May the Lord continue to guide us throughout this journey and may He continue to be with us and bless us all in our good many endeavours in life. Amen.