7 August. Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week
Num 13-14:passim. When the scouts report Canaan as dangerous, the people grumble and are doomed to forty years of wandering in the desert.
Matt 15:21ff. At first, Jesus discourages the Canaanite woman, but she persists and is rewarded.
First Reading: Numbers 13:1-2, 25; 14:1, 26-29, 34-35
The Lord said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.” And at the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.
Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Seldom is heard an encouraging word
The readings speak of hope, of persevering despite bad reports and long delays. The Israelites gave up too quickly, but the Canaanite woman would not take No for an answer.
The scouts sent by Moses into Canaan returned with a mixed report. First they told about the fertility and sweetness of the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey, its fruit so heavy that it took two men to carry a single bunch of grapes on a pole. But they also warned of giants and a walled city guarded by a fierce and strong people, and that threat made the Israelites lose heart. It was their fear that condemned them to wandering in the desert.
Jesus’ outlook is transformative, pointing to the future. Butat first he would not even answer the Canaanite woman who came looking for help for her daughter. His words sounded very blunt, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Seemingly, his world mission was not yet clearly envisioned. Yet there are hints that his vision reached beyond the Jewish horizon. He did not walk away from the woman’s need but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, in answering her plea, he points to the future outreach of his church, far beyond the boundaries of the house of Israel.