DEALING WITH FEARS
How do we deal with fears that challenge our very existence?
Peters episode on the water was one example that illustrates how life’s circumstance can make us so vulnerable to instinctive fear. As a disposition of our mind, fear can rob us of our sense of wellbeing. It can blind us of hope, and rob us of belief in our competence and worth.
Today’s gospel presents us with a second example that highlights a common experience that places us vulnerably exposed to our primal instinct of fear. It’s the story of the Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon whose daughter has suffered what we would call a severe mental health condition. She referred to it as demon possession.
A precise description or definition of evil possession or mental health is not necessary for us to address the issue. Overwhelmed by fear is what it can feel like. We feel we have lost all control of our life. Whether like Peters possible drowning or her battle with a mental health like condition, humans must learn to address this deep instinctive challenge to our very existence.
Must we remain subject to such powers, or is there something we can do to address the vulnerability of our human existence?
Jesus encounter with the Canaanite woman offers some interesting insights. The disciples and Jesus travel through a foreign territory. A woman who has a desperately sick, demented daughter learns of Jesus being in the district. One assumes she has heard of his reputation.
Any parent will know how deeply they are concerned when a child is sick.
There are many examples of sick children presented via our news media and one cannot help but be amazed at the extraordinary devotion and courage of parents who devote their life to their child’s wellbeing. It’s hard not to regard them as heroes.
This woman displays all such characteristics. We can imagine this has been a long and torturous journey for the whole family. She is desperate and approaches Jesus. Not a flight, but certainly a fight.
THE MYSTERIOUS TEST
What unfolds is a strange encounter, which often baffles. Seemingly so un-Jesus like. He appears aloof and with little compassion. His disciples encourage him to tell her to go away. He ignores her. She persists. He justifies his response by claiming he is focused upon people of the Jewish faith. This excuse is no deterrent for a desperate mother. Her fight continues by pushing to the front of the crowd and kneeling before him.
This is not a pious kneeling. Rather a flinging of herself before him. Maybe something like a dog jumping up on its master. Her deep instinctive fight bursts forth in its most honest and transparent explosion of emotion.
‘Lord, help me.’
Is this raw humanity driven by fear, where one’s soul is laid bare before all and sundry? Jesus sticks to his guns, and tests her in a search for something more. He declares, ‘It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
Some commentators suggest that this is not as derogatory as it seems, but rather a Jewish saying emphasising the distinctive identity of the Jewish nationality. He is repeating the central purpose of his earlier argument.
HER FAITH REVEALED
Now her response brings to light an extraordinary insight of her perception that reveals she is not only a desperate parent. At the beginning of the passage, while being a Canaanite woman, she declares Jesus to not only be a Jew. She has come to recognise he is an extraordinary Jew. She addresses him as Lord. One who fits the identity of the long held Jewish belief in the coming Messiah, the Son of David.
The encounter reaches its climax, when she responds so insightfully, Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. If Jesus has preserved his purpose of mission to be to the Jews. She has broken through this national boundary and revealed himself as Jewish like.
There is the touch of the universal human.
If fear is an instinctive response from our most primitive depth, faith is greater, for it flows from the divine centre from where life itself emanates. And Jesus recognises this strength of life gushing forth within her humble desperation.
He declares, ‘Woman great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
Fear is a condition that in some cases is valuable, but mostly, threatens to destroy our very humanity.
Last week with Peter attempting to walk on water and today the Canaanite woman faced with such a desperate and debilitating illness, we are shown that faith is an attitude that transcends fear. Fear threatens life, faith expands life.
A simple saying, declares, 'Fear knocked at the door, faith answered and no one was there.'