(I Kings 8: 37-43)
Nonetheless, in today’s Gospel we do see something strange to our way of thinking, as modern Westerners long accustomed to thinking of Christianity as universal, perhaps even as democratic in the classic sense, maybe as egalitarian to some degree, or, at the very least, as polite. We see Jesus appear unwilling to help this Gentile woman until she humbly acknowledges that she, not being Jewish, is like a dog asking for scraps that fall from the Israelite table.
It seems even more strange after the Morning Prayer lesson from I Kings in which Solomon asks God to grant the prayers of the stranger who comes and prays in the Temple, having heard of God’s great Name, that all the world may know that there is only one God. It seems strange when we remember that Jesus had angered the people of His hometown by saying that they would reject Him, but that as Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow, and as Elisha had cured the leper Naaman, from Syria, His own ministry would benefit even the Gentiles who would trust Him.
The story of Naaman is very dramatic, and a lot like this story. The Syrian General, who had been Israel’s enemy, came to be healed by the prophet Elisha. By the grace of God, he was healed, but not before humbling himself and accepting the one demand that the prophet made; that he wash himself in the Jordan river (and what do we learn from this? Naaman’s mikvah, his cleansing, in the River Jordan signifies that some day the Gentiles would be able to enter into the covenant by baptism). The prophet did not even bother to come meet this very important man, but simply sent a messenger. At first Naaman was angry and started to leave in a huff, but his friends reasoned with him. Like this woman we read of today, he had to humble himself in order to receive a gift from God.
The New Covenant and children of Abraham
The point has everything to do with the Covenant, specifically the Covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham is the father of the people of Israel, which means, as St. Paul would write, that he was the father of all who have faith in the true and Living God, the true God Who is known only by the revelation of Himself. Out of that Covenant came the other Covenants, the Covenant of Sinai, when the Law was given to the people who were freed from slavery in Egypt, and the Covenant of the Kingdom made with David. These grew out of the Covenant that God made with Abram, when he was yet uncircumcised, that is when he was still a Gentile named Abram, and had not yet become Abraham, circumcised and the father of Isaac, and thereby the father of a multitude.
"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, though I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying Know the LORD: For they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the LORD: For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31: 31-34)."
This is lost on many people who cannot understand the words of this woman, when she spoke with humility. Against the warning of St. Paul they "boast against the root" that bears them, that is against the Jewish heritage of the Church by which all Christians are made children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. They presume, they boast, and think that God is a modern egalitarian Who accepts everyone and everything as six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are very comfortable hearing about the New Covenant, and the forgiveness of sins, but what does it all entail? What do we need to be asking and learning?
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory henceforth world without end. Amen.