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The silence of Christ

On the Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28

‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Mark 8:29). This question, which Jesus puts to his disciples, is one that is still addressed to us today, and the answer we give will have a great influence on our reading of Scripture. Who is Jesus Christ? Was he a good man, who helped people and gave useful advice for life? Was he a prophet, who spoke boldly against religious and political authorities? Or is he the Christ, the Son of the living God?

If Jesus was merely a teacher and miracle-worker, then the meaning of today’s Gospel is clear: initially, Jesus rebuffed the Canaanite woman because she was not ‘of the House of Israel’. Then, her persistence taught him to respect her, and so he healed her daughter. Effectively, then, this Gospel seems to show Jesus learning not to discriminate on the basis of race…

Well, needless to say, that’s not how the Church has understood this passage. In the Faith of the Church, Jesus Christ is God-made-man, and ‘learning from his mistakes’ is not on his to-do list! For us Catholics, there must be something deeper going on in this passage.

Pay attention to the words of the disciples: ‘Give her what she wants because she is shouting after us’. The disciples were only interested in a miracle in order to get rid of the Canaanite woman! But the miracles of Jesus won’t be granted to serve that purpose. He’s looking for something else: faith. When the Canaanite woman shows perseverance, even chutzpah, Jesus knows she has it. ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted’.

If Jesus is really the Son of God, then his initial silence cannot be interpreted as showing a sectarian attitude. Instead, it seems to demonstrate something that all praying Christians experience: God sometimes appears silent in the face of our prayers, and it is often when we are most desperate in our cry for help that we receive consolation. The silence of God – the silence of Christ in this Sunday’s Gospel – can be an invitation to cry from the heart, with deep faith.


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