At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Sacrifice is a feast; a holy meal. Sacrifice, the festive meal, is where we give what we have worked for, our work and dedication, as a gift to everyone gathered and to God. We give. The guests meet God’s providence and God’s love. We give thanks to God and proclaim His love to each other. Sacrifice is the heavenly wedding banquet, the table of Abraham. God recreates and saves his people at the meal of the Passover and at the Mystical Supper. That is sacrifice.
In today’s gospel, Jesus meets the Canaanite woman and begins to speak about a meal. He compares her request for her daughter’s healing to a request for food at the heavenly banquet. The heathen, godless Canaanite woman comes to Him to ask for healing. Not just healing but deliverance from demons. In all likelihood both she and her daughter have served the pagan demons in sorcery and other demonic occupations. She comes to a metaphorical meal with Jesus, even though her sacrificial meals are offered to the demons of her pagan gods. She calls Jesus, “Son of David,” even though it was the Canaanite idols of old that tempted the people of King David away from their God. Because of the Canaanites, the people of David learned to offer meal-sacrifices to demons, and the Kingdom of David was destroyed. The temple of David’s son, King Solomon was destroyed because of the constant idolatry. The very place where the God of Israel received sacrifices was destroyed because Israelites ate and drank and sacrificed with Canaanites and their demonic gods. That is why Jesus says, “we do not give the food of the children to the dogs.
But the Canaanite woman accepts the rebuke. She will do what it takes to gain healing for her daughter. The Canaanite woman’s humility and willingness to hear the rebuke become an intercessory offering on behalf of her daughter. The woman is offering a sacrifice of confession and thanksgiving to Jesus for her daughter’s healing. Proclaiming your belief that God can help you is the same as thanking God: in both cases God is proclaimed to be the one who provides.
Our martyrdom, our walking in the way that has been taught to us, our confessions, tithing, compassion, abstaining from whatever is not holy: all this is our sacrifice on behalf of others. As it says in the Liturgy, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee in behalf of all and for all.” We offer our repentance and our obedience as a joyous sacrifice-feast with our God. We do this for others and for the life of the world.
Sacrifice is a feast. It is not to placate God, but to cause that which God intends to become all the more our reality. We become pleasing to God inasmuch as what God has been well-pleased to do becomes our life, and the life of our whole community. Our righteousness has a knock-on effect. Our example of dedication to God shows the world that Jesus is our only hope. Our righteousness is a proclamation of the gospel, because it is not our own righteousness but Jesus’ righteousness which has caused us to follow Him.
Today we remember St. Ignatius the God-Bearer of Antioch. In about the year 107 AD, Ignatius was summed to speak to the Emperor in Rome and to give an account of his faith. This would mean certain death. Ignatius would claim that there is only one God who has sent His Son to die for us, thereby denying that Caesar or any other Roman gods were truly gods.
As he travelled from Antioch to Rome he wrote farewell letters to various churches, knowing that he would die in Rome for his faith. In his letter (which was sent ahead of his arrival) to the Roman church, St. Ignatius pleads with the church not to intervene on his behalf to prevent his martyrdom. He writes, “I must use this opportunity of attaining to God.” He longs for the opportunity to become one with Christ our God in his death. He writes, “I must be sacrificed while the altar is still prepared.” There is an urgency in St. Ignatius’ desire to sacrifice: his death will be an invitation to others to join him. With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near! His sacrifice is an offering of faith to God, but also an invitation to others to come partake of the feast of faith and become emboldened to do likewise.
St. Ignatius writes:
Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God].
St. Ignatius says, “do not keep me from living!” For him, to die as a martyr is life.
We can apply this teaching to ourselves in the same way that we did with the Canaanite woman. St. Ignatius did not want to waste the opportunity to bear witness to Christ before the emperor, and in so doing die for Christ. The Canaanite woman took the opportunity afforded her by Jesus’ rebuke. She learned that to be brought face-to-face with the reality of our sins, and to be given the opportunity to change, is a great mercy. When we take advantage of this opportunity, we are offering our improved lives, our cleansed hearts as an offering to God, and it will become a blessing for everyone. Who will be blessed, when you offer your life to God?
When Jesus died, the disciples failed to take advantage of the opportunity to die with Christ. This was especially true in the case of Peter who denied Christ three times. But Jesus invites the disciples back to the meal of the sacrifice. This is the story of how Jesus offered this reconciliation to Peter and the others – in the context of a meal.
“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:1–19)
Jesus prepares a meal so that we may bring the fish that we have caught. We add our own food to the meal. We add our own sacrifice to His sacrifice. In any case, the fish were only “the disciples’ fish” in a derivative way of speaking: Jesus was the one who caused them to catch the fish when they had caught none during the night. All things are from Jesus and are offered back to Him, so that He may make all things holy.
Jesus gives you your challenges, temptations and humbling encounters with the truth of your fallenness and sins. He gives them to you as fish to cook with His. Jesus gives us joy and blessings so that we may offer our thanks as wine with the food. Jesus tells us to tend and feed His sheep. When we speak the truth of the gospel with our lives we are nurturing others who are beginning to follow Jesus.
At Your mystical supper receive me today, o Son of God … like the thief I will confess You: remember me, o Lord, in your Kingdom!