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Don’t be rigid, but be ‘docile to change’ as Jesus was, Pope tells pilgrims

August 21, 2023

Reflecting on Christ’s encounter with the Canaanite woman who pleaded for the healing of her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28), Pope Francis said during his August 20 Angelus address that “Jesus changed his attitude. What made him change it was the strength of the woman’s faith.”

Jesus “was directing his preaching to the chosen people,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. “Later the Holy Spirit would push the Church to the ends of the world. But what happens here, we could say, is an anticipation through which the universality of God’s work is already manifested in the episode of the Canaanite woman.”

“Jesus’ openness is interesting,” the Pope continued, as he commented on what he described as the Savior’s change in attitude. “Faced with her concrete case, he becomes even more sympathetic and compassionate. This is what God is like: he is love, and the one who loves does not remain rigid.”

The Pope added:

Yes, he or she stands firm, but not rigid, they do not remain rigid in their own positions, but allow themselves to be moved and touched. He or she knows how to change their plans.

Love is creative. And we Christians who want to imitate Christ, we are invited to be open to change. How good it would do our relationships, as well as our lives of faith, if we were to be docile, to truly pay attention, to soften up in the name of compassion and the good of others, like Jesus did with the Canaanite woman. The docility to change. Hearts docile to change.

“We can ask ourselves a few questions, beginning with the change in Jesus,” Pope Francis said at the conclusion of his address. “For example: Am I capable of changing opinion? Do I know how to be understanding and do I know how to be compassionate, or do I remain rigid in my position? Is there some rigidity in my heart? Which is not firmness: rigidity is awful, firmness is good.”

The Pontiff also commented on the Canaanite woman’s faith and prayer, as he had done in his previous Angelus addresses on the Gospel passage (2017, 2020).

Pope Francis’s statement that the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter anticipated the “universality of God’s work”—i.e., the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles—stands in continuity with the patristic interpretation of the passage, as do his remarks on the Canaanite woman’s faith and prayer.

However, the view that Christ did not intend to heal the daughter, but “changed his attitude” when faced with the woman’s faith, differs from the interpretation of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. They wrote that Christ intended to heal the woman’s daughter, but delayed stating his intention in order to elicit greater faith and more persistent prayer, and in order that the woman’s persistent faith might be an example to others.

Christ “was giving the impression of ignoring her, so that her faith might show all the better,” St. Augustine preached. “He concealed from her the gift, which he certainly intended to give, in order to wring from her heart the saying which would make her worthy to receive it” (Sermon 77, p. 139).

“With this intent did Christ put her off, for He knew she would say this; for this did He deny the grant, that He might exhibit her high self-command,” St. John Chrysostom preached (in the rendering of a 19th-century translation).

Christ’s dealings with the Canaanite woman, Chrysostom continued, were similar to his dealings with the Samaritan woman at the well and the centurion with an ill servant—two non-Jews whom he had previously encountered—as well as with the woman with an issue of blood. “So also here, He would not that so great virtue in the woman should be hid. Not in insult then were His words spoken, but calling her forth, and revealing the treasure laid up in her.”


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  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Aug. 23, 2023 7:48 PM ET USA

    The rigidity of vagueness mocks the solace of clarity. At least he got the Gentile interpretation right.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Aug. 23, 2023 1:13 PM ET USA

    Amen!!! Love Saint John Chrysostom..!

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Aug. 23, 2023 1:02 PM ET USA

    The Lord Christ Jesus, was beyond change, even in His sacred humanity...Saint John Henry Newman has some wonderful writings on this as well as Garrigou-Lagrange and above all the Teaching of God the Holy Spirit and Jesus' Perfection, there is nothing that Jesus did not grasp and know perfectly in His Sacred Perfect Human Nature....He has/had no deficient 'attitudes' that need broadening and opening up, they were perfect and perfectly integrated Hypostatically....Poor Gesu` and Mary!

  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 21, 2023 9:29 AM ET USA

    "Jesus changed his attitude" - so, according to pope Francis, from the start the Lord really hated the woman for daring to plead with him for her child. But since she was better than Jesus, she made him change his attitude and Our Lord became a better person. This explains why Francis tried to upgrade the text of the Lord's Prayer: "because God doesn't lead us into temptation."