Wednesday August 8, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35)
Gospel (St. Matthew 15:21-28)
We have today in the readings a contrast of faith and faithlessness. We see the faithlessness of the Israelite people as they are going through the desert. They have come now into the Promised Land and they are sent up into the area to reconnoiter the land. They come back and tell Moses and the people: "There is no way we can do this." On one level, there is a point of truth to that: by themselves they cannot. But the fact is they saw that they did not do anything at Jericho: They marched around the city seven times, blew the trumpets, and all the walls fell down. They knew that, with all the other battles they had to fight, God fought for them. How many times He would tell them, "You are not even going to have to lift the sword - just be there," and then He turns the people on one another. Still, they did not believe.
They saw these Anakim, these giants that were there and they were terrified of it. We are going to see, several hundred years later, that one of the Philistines (who was rather a giant) came out to do battle and a little boy, David, took him on and killed him. When David comes out and says, "I come against you in the Name of the Lord of Hosts," it shows that it is not David who is trying to fight the battle; but rather, David leaves it to God. But the people of Israel, in this particular instance, refused to be faithful to God. God told them that He would take care of it all, that He would do this.
The people in that land were doing abominable things, that is why God told the Israelites that they had to wipe them out - completely. They were to obliterate them. We look at that and say, "Why would God ever say that?" It is because they were sacrificing their babies to demons. That is what the Canaanites were into.
And so, we see this Canaanite woman in the Gospel asking Jesus for a miracle and saying, "Son of David." The Canaanites did not believe in the Son of David, they could not have cared less; nonetheless, this woman, on an individual level, had faith. Canaanites, objectively speaking, were not people of faith - at least not faith in God. They had faith in a demon by the name of Moloch and they were doing hideous things. But the people in the ancient times refused to cooperate with God, they refused to be faithful; therefore, God allowed some of them to remain among the people of Israel. And they did exactly what God told them that they would do: They intermarried and began following the false gods. Eventually, the Israelites even started sacrificing their babies to the demons. That is why they went into the Exile.
But now, here is one woman from the Canaanites, who is pagan, who is a faithless individual if you consider the whole Canaanite people; yet, she alone shows more faith than the people of Israel. She has faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of David, as the Messiah, as Lord, as the one and only Person who can take care of the need that she has. When Jesus says, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs," her response is: "Even the dogs get to eat the droppings that fall from the Master's table." Jesus recognizes the faith. He knew the woman had faith, but He was going to push this woman to see exactly where her faith lay. She demonstrated her faith and because she did not back down, because her faith remained strong she received what she asked for.
The people in the Old Testament waffled in their faith and they got what they asked for: they all died in the desert, one year for every day, because they refused to be faithful to God and receive the promises that He had made. The woman in the Gospel was faithful and she received what she asked for, although what she received was the fulfillment of the promises of God.
So for us, who have seen God's work in our own lives, we need to learn this lesson. Learn the lesson the negative way from the Israelites in the desert and learn it the positive way from this Canaanite woman. We need to be faithful and we need to persevere in that faith. And that perseverance will pay off in the reception of God's promises.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.