As I’ve mentioned before, I do most of the cooking for the household. Every so often, I’ll do something exotic or strange: a different genre of food, a way of cooking I haven’t tried before, or a similarly unusual experience. Usually when I do so, I make it explicit to the family that — if my experiment is too weird or icky — we can always get something out of the pantry or order pizza. In short, although my family enjoys my cooking, we know that there are other possibilities if things get too rough.
Conversely, growing up I used to go camping occasionally with my family. We would bring along a limited amount of food in ice chests and paper bags. Although we had plenty of supplies to get us through our camping period, we didn’t have that much extra. If we burnt the hot dogs beyond the ability to eat and dropped the buns on the ground, then we’d have to cancel the entire trip if we didn’t want to go hungry; we were too far from anyplace to make a quick run to get food. So, in those cases, we have to trust the cook’s ability. We’ve put the entire trip in the cook’s hands; what choice do we have?
Today’s readings offer a couple of different views of that idea of trusting one person, in this case, God. In the first reading from Numbers, we hear the story about how the children of Israel scouted Canaan. That area was the Promised Land . . . as in, “God promised that this land was yours and everything would work out.”
But some of the people didn’t trust God or His plan, saying, “We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.” (Numbers 13:31) Then they spread discouragement among the people: “[A]ll the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants . . . we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:32-33)
I’ve read this passage many times over the years, and it still is kind of amazing to me. The children of Israel had witnessed firsthand countless miracles, both during their flight from Egypt and in the desert as they were kept alive through the gifts of God alone. I have a hard enough time in my daily life putting my complete trust in God, since I sometimes feel that there aren’t concrete signs I can point to that show I’m on the right path. But here, the children of Israel knew — without a doubt — that God was looking out for them, blessing their efforts, and guaranteeing their ultimate success . . . and they still couldn’t see clear to trusting God. No wonder God was angry! And thus the children of Israel were forced to wander for 40 years, assured that they wouldn’t see the Promised Land but also assured that their children would.
At the other end of the spectrum, today’s Gospel selection from Matthew has a Canaanite woman begging Jesus for help, with Jesus replying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Despite the woman’s insistence, Jesus’ continues: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” This causes the woman to retort, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus responds favorably to this comment, saying, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And, indeed, her daughter was healed.
Take a moment to unpack that. As a Canaanite, the woman was part of the same geo-ethnic group that the Israelites had driven out millennia earlier when they claimed Israel. So it would have been understandable if she didn’t want any part in what Jesus was offering . . . especially when Jesus asserted that he was there only for the sheep of the house of Israel. But still she persisted. This was a woman who had placed her entire faith in what she recognized as the Truth in front of her, and her faith was rewarded.
Today, I encourage you to look at how much you trust God. Are you like the “lost sheep” of the first reading, having been gifted time and again with God’s grace and blessings but still afraid that you can’t continue to rely on God? Or perhaps you can’t even perceive the gifts you’ve been granted by God, and let your life be ruled by fear because you haven’t taken the time to assess the blessings of your own life? Or do you trust in God so completely that even if it seems like He’s ignoring you, you merely take that as an opportunity to steel your faith and pray harder? Or are you somewhere in between?
I make no qualms about my imperfections in most ways. If I mess up as a cook, I certainly don’t expect my family to make themselves nauseous on my terrible cooking! So it’s understandable if my family doesn’t “trust” in my abilities entirely. But our God is perfect. If we can’t trust Him more wholeheartedly than anything in this world, that doesn’t reveal a flaw in our God, but an imperfection in our own faith. And that’s not a deal-breaker! God loves us no matter where we are in our faith journey. But recognizing our imperfections can help us get to where we need to be, spiritually. Faith is something that can be developed and built over time . . . not unlike my cooking skill.