Never too far away
The Syrophoenician woman teaches us to seek the Lord in any condition of our lives, trusting the Lord in admitting our unworthiness. The great faith of this pagan woman is also an example of how the Holy Spirit can work marvels even in those people who may seem more distant from God.
Reading: Mark 7:24-30
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
At this stage of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has just exposed his teaching on purity and impurity, trying to teach his listeners to be less concerned with practices of exterior purity and focus on the purity of their hearts’ intentions.
The situation in which Jesus finds himself in today’s Gospel contains many elements that would be considered impure according to his time’s religious and social standards. To begin with, Jesus is approached by a pagan woman who does not belong to the Jewish people and does not believe in the God of Israel. All of this happens in a foreign land, a land of idolatry and impurity, for the very fact of being abroad from Israel. On top of everything else, this woman also lives with her daughter, who is possessed by an unclean spirit.
The situation could not really be worse! But the first good news we can take out from this Gospel is that the very reasons that are supposed to keep this woman away from God are the ones that lead her to the encounter with the Lord. She goes from the house where she lives with the unclean spirit to the house where the thrice holy Lord dwells!
Then, what can allow us to approach the Lord is the awareness of our distance from Him; it is the very consciousness of not being worthy that makes us encounter the Lord. Only in this way can we truly know His love, which is grace freely given and not merited.
We can see this conviction that God loves us so much in the attitude of this woman, who was so certain of the Lord’s mercy that she even overcomes Jesus’s apparent refusal. She admits her position of being a pagan, but such is her faith that she says to be content even just with the crumbs of that bread of the children, which Christ describes as firstly reserved for the Jewish. This bread is image of the one we continually receive in the Eucharist, Christ Himself, the bread that makes us children of God and brothers among ourselves.
The Syrophoenician woman, who knew herself to be outside of the people of God, asks for the crumbs of that bread with sincerity about her condition. She believes so much in the power of Christ then even one crumb is enough for her. In her heart, with her faith, she is already certain that that bread of mercy and love cannot be limited only to a specific category of people; everybody animated with humility can experience the immense power hidden in each single crumb of that bread which is Christ.
What the witness of this woman teaches us, then, is to seek the Lord starting from our unworthiness. But also, her faith shows us how the Holy Spirit can work freely even in people who are apparently far away from God. For true faith is a gift from God, and Jesus, in Matthew’s parallel of this Gospel, recognises this divine gift in that woman’s heart as he says: ‘Woman, great is your faith!’ (Mt 15, 28) .
Let us then pray to the Holy Spirit to be confirmed in the hope that the holy bread that makes us children is there to be freely given also to us, if we desire it with deep trust in the Lord’s mercy. And this hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (cfr. Rm 5,5).
Thank you Giovanni for your wonderful thoughts keep well