Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Orthodox Interpretation of What the Canaanite Woman Did

This past Sunday, the Gospel reading came from Matthew 15, where we hear about "The Canaanite Woman's Faith." Apparently, this particular Gospel selection has been misinterpreted through a poor eisegesis (that is, an exegesis that one gets nothing out of), and even the clergy have not been immune to this. Most notably, it comes Fr. James Martin (who wrote on this same bad interpretation last year) and the Maryknoll Missionaries. What is this ridiculous and completely heterodox interpretation being banded about? From the latter's Twitter feed this past Sunday:

Yea... no. A Canaanite woman did not "school" Jesus, and to even suggest as much is to deny that Jesus was perfect. Are we really so naive as to believe that Jesus needed to learn anything from anyone? Furthermore, if we as Catholic Christians proclaim Jesus to be perfect, then how can we ascribe a prejudice attitude towards our Lord? To be prejudice against someone because they are foreign is an imperfection in us as humans. But since Jesus didn't have only a human nature, but a divine nature as well, He did not possess this imperfection, because our Lord Jesus, like the Father (as both are one in being), is perfect (cf. Matt. 5:48). 

The interpretation given in the above image denies the august majesty of Jesus, as well as His foreknowledge. This interpretation is just as bad as the interpretation of the loaves and fishes which says that Jesus performed no miracle; everyone just shared. So then, what exactly is the right interpretation of this verse? Luckily, we have the Church Fathers and the rest of the saints to turn to. As well as many orthodox priests and pastors alive today.
At my parish, I was treated to an excellent sermon by our pastor. Father alluded to the whole “moral therapeutic deism” approach to religion, and that these folks would contend that Christ’s response to the Canaanite woman would be “unChristian”. The irony was not lost on me, that’s for sure.

Father mentioned that what Jesus teaches us, through the Canaanite woman, is to become stronger in two virtues: humility and persistence. That we pray unceasingly, even if we FEEL that God is not listening to us, just as Jesus at first ignored the Canaanite woman. But in His wisdom, He knew what He was doing. Father mentioned that God gave this woman the grace to be superabundant in these two virtues, and she serves as a good example for us. Father also mentioned that it may be hard, but we have to realize that we are less than a speck of dust when compared to Almighty God. When we realize this, we start to possess that “fear of the Lord”, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman- Juan de Flandes
Father also read a couple other “unChristian” passages that Christ spoke in the Gospels. He mentioned St. Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus talks about not bringing peace, but a sword, that is, division. Father essentially told us that we have to step back and see what Jesus was trying to accomplish in saying such “divisive” things, because at first glance it does seem like Jesus is “mean”, but that’s not the case at all. We have a wonderful example of how to address our Lord in the Canaanite woman. Because of her example, we learn how to be persistent in prayer, and how to live with humility.

Another excellent essay on the subject was written by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush:
Jesus is teaching – Learn from Him 
"Through it all – indeed, before even the woman began to ask – Jesus was moving her and inspiring her by his hidden graces. It was our Savior who had allowed the daughter to become ill. It was our Savior who inspired the woman to come to him and call out. It was our Savior who allowed the disciples to rebuff her, but he still sustained her with his grace. It was our Savior who gave her the strength to persevere, even when rejected. Through it all, the grace of Christ sustained this woman’s prayer – and thus, because it was all grace, her prayer was answered."
And finally we have a homily from a certain Doctor of the Church, and it's probably the best proof that shows how wrongheaded this new "interpretation" really is. I was curious when I saw the tweet from Maryknoll, and thought, "What did St. John Chrysostom write?" Sure enough, he had a lot to say.

I think many of these people need to read St. John's Homily 52 on St. Matthew's Gospel, by that great Doctor of the Church himself. Linked above is the homily in full. It's long, but a great read. The meaty part is towards the end. Here's my favorite part, which totally shuts down any "eisegesis" that some are trying to do today with the whole "Oh wow, Jesus learned something from this woman!" Of course not! Jesus is teaching US THROUGH this woman. I've adjusted some of the language so it's easier to read, but I highly encourage everyone to read the full homily, or at least the second half. There's a lot of wisdom in these passages:
St. John Chrysostom
"What then says Christ?... 'It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.' 
"What then says the woman? Out of His own very words she frames her plea. 'Why, though I be a dog,' said she, 'I am not an alien.' Justly did Christ say, 'For judgment I came into this world' (Jn. 9:39). The woman practices high self-command, and shows forth all endurance and faith, and [does] this, [even when] receiving insult; but they [the Pharisees in Jn. 9], who were courted and honored, requite it with the contrary. 
"For, 'that food is necessary for the children', says she, 'I also know; yet neither am I forbidden, being a dog... nay, rather on this ground am I most surely a partaker, if I am a dog. 
"With this intent did Christ put her off, for He knew she would say this; for this did He deny the grant, that He might exhibit her high self-command. 
"For if He had not meant to give, neither would He have given afterwards, nor would He have stopped her mouth again. But as He does in the case of the centurion, saying, 'I will come and heal him' (Matt. 8:7), that we might learn the godly fear of that man, and might hear him say, 'I am not worthy that You should come under my roof'; ...and as in the case of the Samaritan woman, that He might show how not even upon reproof she desists (cf. Jn. 4:18), so also here [with the Canaanite woman], He would not [allow such] great virtue in the woman to be hidden. Not in insult then were His words spoken, but calling her forth, He revealed the treasure laid up in her. 
"Do you see the woman's wisdom, how she did not venture so much as to say a word against it, nor was stung by other men's praises, nor was indignant at the reproach? Do you see her constancy?... He used the name of a dog, but she added also the dog's act. Do you see this woman's humility? 
"Yea, therefore did He put her off, that He might proclaim aloud this saying [O woman, great is your faith! (Matt. 15:28)], that He might crown the woman."
I, for one, think it's time for me to start reading more from St. John Chrysostom. If I want orthodoxy, I won't be getting it from people who buy into the "prejudicial Jesus" interpretation. No thanks, I think I'll trust the Doctors of the Church, as well as the tradition of the Church, instead.

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