”All men are tempted. There is no man that lives that can't be broken down, provided it is the right temptation put in the right spot.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher
Some surprising twists and turns in today’s 1st Reading (1 Kings 11:4-13) and Gospel (Mark 7:24-30), wherein the wise and virtuous King Solomon succumbs to idolatry and Jesus initially denies a Canaanite woman’s petition to drive a demon out of her possessed daughter. Let’s try and make sense of it all.
Having been introduced to King David’s son and heir apparent Solomon over the last few days and reflecting upon his precocious wisdom and understanding (1 Kings 3:4-13 & 1 Kings10:1-10) https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Treasure-of-an-Understanding-Heart, today’s turn of events might come as a bit of a surprise. But they can also serve as a sobering reminder of the relentless nature of temptation coupled with our concupiscence ~ our natural proclivity towards sin ~ a cross that we as the fallen children of Adam and Eve all must carry.
Scripture does not tell us how King Solomon was beguiled by these idols, so we’re left to believe that his descent into perdition may have very well been a gradual one. So too can it be for us. We must remain vigilant and disciplined in our approach to our faith lives each and every day, for the devil “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). Without God, we are no match for the Prince of Darkness. With God, we win. Everytime. It’s not even close.
A blatant disregard of the 1st Commandment will always bring with it severe consequences, whether the offender be a King or but a regular person like you or me. The Lord’s response to Solomon is dramatic and severe: “Since this is what you want, and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I enjoined on you, I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant. I will not do this during your lifetime, however, for the sake of your father David; it is your son whom I will deprive. Nor will I take away the whole kingdom. I will leave your son one tribe for the sake of my servant David and of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
We too can be deprived of our place in the eternal Heavenly Kingdom if we allow ourselves to be sucked into the vortex of rampant secularism, a plague is so prevalent today. Good habits, a vibrant prayer life, the sacraments... these comprise our divinely-tailored suit of armor, our protection against the dishonest promises of a dishonest world. We’ll delve deeper into this topic tomorrow.
In our Gospel, we find Jesus in the district of Tyre, where he entered a house and wanted no one to know about it. On the heels of the numerous miracles that he was performing (Mark 5:1-20, Mark 5:21-43, Mark 6:53-56, etc) the likelihood of that happening was remote. So when a Greek woman fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to drive the demon out of her daughter, the conversation takes this seemingly un-Jesus-like turn:
“Let the children be fed first,” Jesus says, “for it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman in turn replies “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Jesus, astonished by the faith of this woman ~ it would not be the first time in Scripture a foreigner surprises Jesus with his or her faith ~ quickly replies “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Was Jesus’ uncharacteristically aloof response to the Greek woman a byproduct of His humanity? Was He testing her faith? Her perseverance? This woman in so many respects exemplifies the proper attitude towards God, one which we must seek to adopt; a blend of humility and boldness, of deference and single-mindedness.
I’ve always appreciated this Gospel Passage for its salvific implications. It is in this encounter that Jesus foreshadows the Easter Message, one which we revisit often during the Lenten Season: Jesus’ arrival on Earth has opened the door to salvation for both Jew and Gentile, a message of hope for a people who were heretofore otherwise hopeless. Saint Paul’s letters serve to reinforce this message time and time again. As Isaiah is our Advent companion, so too is Saint Paul our Lenten escort as we make our way through the desert that crescendos with the Triduum and subsequent resurrection of Jesus.
Salvation can be ours. Will we respond with the boldness, trust and perseverance of the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel?
“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” ~ James 1:21