Motherhood and Salvation

I think the Gospel reading for this week – Mt 15:21-28, The Healing of the Canaanite Woman’s Daughter – is pregnant with eschatological meaning.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isa 56:1, 6-7
Ro 11:13-15, 29-32
Mt 15:21-28
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.
(Mt 15:28)

The woman, who calls Jesus “Lord” and “Son of David,” asks for mercy on herself, but in doing so is actually referring to her daughter’s ailment. She is, in other words, identifying completely with her daughter’s suffering – she’s making it her own.

Jesus, however, does not respond to her with a logos (word). The disciples, we are told, ask (or implore) Jesus to “send her away,” though the plea doesn’t look much like a question. Did they “ask” Him on her behalf? Or did they just want to be rid of her so she’d stop yelling behind them? Verse 24 would seem to suggest they asked Him to help her. However, Jesus was not sent to the Gentiles . . . the apostles were – but that’s a story to be picked up later.

The woman, at any rate, would not be deterred, and she came and did Jesus homage – again asking “help me,” and so demonstrating again her commitment to her daughter’s healing as her own personal burden. There’s no real surprise to that, of course, but Jesus honors it. Great was her faith, so the Lord tells us, and it was indeed her will that was accomplished – Christ made her will His own. Such is the remarkable power of the prayer of those of “great faith.” Because of this woman’s faith, her daughter was healed of demon possession “from that hour.”

And if the demons had no more power over her, then her mother’s faith surely brought her across the threshold of salvation. Great is the power of intercession: If one will take on the suffering of others, the power of salvation can be manifest.

Why didn’t the disciples implore Jesus to save the child because of the her suffering from the “cruel” demon possession, instead of because of the nagging persistence of the mother? Perhaps that’s too harsh a reading; perhaps, in a sense, we have here a model of intercession, where the mother pleads for her daughter, and the disciples plead on the mother’s behalf.

I think those that would withhold baptism from infants and children fail to grasp the truth being displayed in this passage about the woman’s faith. It does violence to God’s intention and will for us in Christ to make baptism, or even salvation for that matter, a consequence of personal belief. This woman’s faith saved her child because of the unrelenting love and devotion that she had for the girl. It was a grace, pure and simple. But grace, as always, is offered in love.

Grace is, in other words, dependent on love – it is not random. It was, as Jesus said, the woman’s will that was done in the healing of the daughter. This grace has its origin in the mother’s love, or more precisely, in God’s love brought to light within the mother, expressed through her will to love her daughter.

This should not surprise anyone, because the Christ became like us that we might become like Him. And what is it to be like him? What else but to make the grace of salvation present in the world through love and faith.

Isn’t this just what Christ commanded when he told us to love one another as he has loved us? What was his love for us except taking upon himself our burdens as his burden, and through a faithful, persevering, sacrificial love for us, bringing us to God’s salvation? This is shown in yet another way in Paul’s remarkable assertion that “woman will be saved through bearing children.” (1Tim 2:15, RSV)

Those who are scandalized by Mary’s titles of Co-Redemptrix and Co-Mediatrix must fail to see this. Mary may bear those titles in a special and even unique way, as the one chosen from among all the offspring of Eve to bring Salvation Himself into the world through the love and suffering of childbirth and motherhood (for even if her childbirth were free of suffering, as tradition asserts, her motherhood surely was not). But she does not bear them uniquely per se, for we are all called to share in the salvific love of Christ for the world. Salvation is the work of Christ in the world, working through those who, in His Spirit, would be His Body. The titles really identify Mary with the Church, and orient the Church properly toward the world.

It seems some would like to keep well defined and intact a clear line between the thrice holy God and fallen humanity, but that is precisely the line that He became incarnate to erase, glory be to God.