Rachel Carson dedicated her groundbreaking book Silent Spring (published in 1962) this way:
To Albert Schweitzer who said “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”
Human beings have lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. And this means that we become resigned, fatalistic, accepting the reality in front of us as the only reality, feeling unable to prevent our worst fears from coming true. We see this, for example, with the climate issue. Though scientists have little doubt about the calamity that awaits the human race if we don’t do something, our business, political and civic leaders prefer to ignore the facts – let’s just make as much quick profit as we can, is their motto.
We can’t foresee, we can’t forestall, and we are losing the ability to dialogue. This was my theme last Sunday, and I focused on the Gospel passage that is our reading today: the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
The woman was a Canaanite, a pagan; she represented the pagan past of the Jewish homeland. Yet she came to Jesus. Very often people of no faith or of different faith see more in Jesus than we Christ believers do! We become jaded, complacent in our relationship with Christ, and then we see someone approach with genuine enthusiasm and desire and maybe we start questioning our own relationship with the Lord. I believe this community experienced that 25 years ago when newcomers to our city from other parts of the world showed us a level of commitment and devotion that reminded many of us of how we grew up, how our parents and grandparents oriented their lives around the church and the church calendar.
Let’s see what the Canaanite woman can teach us today and perhaps shake us out of our jaded, complacent faith.
1. She approached with fear. To fear God means that you stand in awe of God’s majesty and goodness. But true fear of God also needs boldness, and this woman was bold. The Greek word parrhesia was one of the most important words in Classical Greek and essential to the vocabulary of democracy in Athens. The tragedies of Euripides are representative of how important this word was in social discourse. So also in the Liturgy we are invited to say the Lord’s Prayer with boldness (μετά παρρησίας – translated as ‘with confidence’ in our Liturgy books; a weak a translation!)
2. She approached with faith. Jesus complimented her on her “great faith.” It takes faith to show yourself vulnerable and come out from hiding.
3. She approached with love. I picture this woman completely open to God’s healing touch. All her defenses are down. She could have reacted with anger at the apparent insult she received from Jesus. But instead, love drew her on; love for her daughter and a deepening love for the man she’s speaking to. Love, not bitterness, won the day.
She came with fear, with faith and with love. That’s the invitation we also hear at every Liturgy. With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near. She drew near to Christ, she pressed on, disregarding everyone who tried to block her and prevent her from contact with Jesus. Today also there are obstacles, closed doors, walls that separate people from each other and from a loving God. We lose the capacity to foresee and to forestall every time we fall for divisive rhetoric instead of engaging in dialogue – fruitful, mutually respectful dialogue.
Dialogue is the message today. Even Jesus was taught by this foreign woman from a different religion. She turned out to be a match for Jesus in sharpness of thought and argument. And he was a match for her in love and affection. He is a match for us too. There is nothing in us that prevents him from loving us. Nothing in our background; nothing in our attitude. No matter how strong the pagan pull is in us, he can overcome it. But we must approach him like this woman did: with the fear of God, with faith, and with love.