In the past history of the church, there was this saying in Latin: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (“No salvation outside the church”). This is a misunderstood teaching in the early catholic era, that”Outside the Church there is no salvation“. This is not, however, to deny salvation to those who in good faith who do not belong to the Church.
Karl Rahner (German Jesuit priest and theologian) developed this idea on the basis of God’s will to save all people (1Tim 2:4). In other words, salvation, blessings and graces are not exclusives for Christ’s followers but are offered also to everybody.
But in today’s gospel, it seems that God’s blessings are somewhat limited to Christ’s followers. When a Canaanite woman, a Gentile and a pagan, approached Jesus and asked Him to have pity on her because her child is tormented by an evil spirit, she received silent treatment and rejection. She received insult and the resistance from Jesus’ disciples and even Jesus Himself addressed her as a dog, since the Gentiles were excluded from God’s covenant and favor with Israel. For the Greek, the ‘dog’ was a symbol of dishonor and was used to describe a shameless and fearless woman. Even St. Matthew records the expression, ‘do not give to the dogs what is holy, ‘ (7: 6).
The woman did not surrender and immediately responded to Jesus with wit and faith: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs, ” (v. 27). So Jesus admires so much the faith of this woman. Her faith breaks down the barrier of exclusivity and division among children of God. Is our faith like the faith of this Canaanite woman?
Her faith in God has three very strong characteristics:
First, her faith is personal. She is personally crying and begging that Jesus may grant her favor. She does not ask somebody to ask Jesus on her behalf.
In other words, she teaches us courage. Aware of being a foreigner, a woman and a pagan, this takes courage on her part to approach Jesus and asks for help. If not of her strong faith, she could just easily go away at the first unkind words from the disciples and from our Lord, but she does not. Her faith is unshakable. She believes in the healing power and goodness of Christ. Maybe many of us would give up at this point and accept defeat if we are ignored and received silent treatment but not for her. She does not want a “No” answer.
Second, her faith is persistent. She is aggressive and insistent not for her own benefits but for the one she dearly so loves, her daughter. She risks being ignored, rejected and rebuked but she remain persistent and she is rewarded.
There was a saying that goes this way: “Prayer is the weakness of God and the strength of human beings. ” The truth is, God has no weakness. But once we pray to Him from our hearts and what we ask of Him concerns not only ourselves but others as well, He would not turn a deaf ear to us. That is why Jesus gives in to the demand of this Canaanite woman. Jesus says:”O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish“, (v. 28) and the woman gets what she wants.
Therefore, we must pray much, pray well, pray always and pray on, as one priest said. A text message that said: “When God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers, don’t hang up. Hang on!” The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us but that we will finally hear God.
Third, her faith is cheerful. Cheerfulness is not the same as merriment. Cheerfulness, is not only our lips and teeth that are smiling but also our hearts. This Canaanite woman offers us a faith that is cheerful. In the sense that even if Jesus calls her, ‘a dog, ‘ but this does not make her down and discouraged.
How about us, are we always looking on the gloomy side of life? Before the Holy Communion, the priest says the old words: “Happy are we who are invited in the banquet of the Lord, or blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb” What is our reaction when we receive the Body of the Lord? Some of us may have received Jesus with heads bowed; or even would not answer, ‘Amen’; or received Him with sadness, with frown or with no feelings at all. Let us receive Jesus with a smile and be very happy. It is because if our faith is strong, we would always be cheerful within. And the moment that we are unbelieving, we are unhappy. God loves a cheerful giver, as St. Paul claimed.
To summarize, our Christian community is not built on conflicts, condemnation and discrimination but on healing, reconciliation and forgiveness and love. I may say, the church is Jesus’ love. To this we can validate the saying , “outside of love, there is no salvation“.
I’m sure this Canaanite woman is already in heaven for she had personal, persistent and cheerful faith and prayer that overcame tests and grew with the challenge.