Weekly Reflections: Indigenous Peoples and the Church


“You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.”
-Matthew 15:28

Indigenous People’s Month

October is declared as Indigenous People’s Month in the ecumenical world. This is an opportune time for us to look into our relationship with the indigenous peoples in our country and elsewhere. The story of the Canaanite Woman as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew could help us in our reflection (15:21-28).

According to the story Jesus Christ our Lord was passing by the territories of Sidon and Tyre when a Canaanite woman came to him shouting at the top of her voice, begging him to heal her daughter. But Jesus Christ our Lord said to her, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.” The disciples tried to stop her, because she was making a lot of noise.

But she kept on begging for help. Then, Jesus Christ our Lord said to her, “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman answered, “That’s true, Sir, but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus Christ our Lord was touched by the woman’s faith, and said to her, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.” And at that very moment, her daughter was healed.

Viewing from the fact that Palestine was predominantly influenced by the Jewish culture, we could perhaps say that this Canaanite Woman was an indigenous person – one who was considered outcast of Jewish society. But nevertheless, she came over to Jesus because she knew that Jesus could be of help to her and her daughter. She cried for mercy. She wanted healing for her daughter who was possessed by a demon.

Marginalized Indigenous Peoples

Like the Canaanite Woman, today’s indigenous peoples are also marginalized in various ways. They are known as cultural minorities, national minorities, natives, tribal groups or ethnic people. But despite their being marginalized, they come to the church for help. They believe the church, the mystical body of Christ, could help them. That the church could do something to free their sons and daughters from the demonic forces possessing their lives and their future. They know that if development aggression in their territorial domain would go on unhindered, the future life of their sons and daughters will be bleak and uncertain. They want their future generations to be saved from death and destruction.

The first response to the cry of the Canaanite Woman came from the disciples. They wanted to send her away simply because she had been making a lot of noise. Interestingly, this is the same kind of response churches today are giving to the cry of indigenous peoples. They also would like to send them away simply because they are making a lot of noise. For isn’t it true that oftentimes when indigenous peoples complain about land grabbing, murder, and environmental destruction, their complaints, in most cases, would only be dismissed as a mere noise, a disturbance to the peace and serenity of the established order? What is currently happening to the Lumads in Mindanao is a clear example.

Attitude of Indifference

The second response came from Jesus our Lord himself. The Canaanite Woman cannot be given attention, because according to him his ministry was only for the lost sheep of Israel. In other words, the Canaanite Woman was not supposed to be included as target of his ministry of healing. In fact, Jesus Christ our Lord even said to her, “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v.26). The Canaanite Woman was likened to a mere dog that was not worthy at all to receive the children’s food. In short, her status was so low that she would never deserve any show of mercy.

Some churches today are also like that. They are indifferent to the cry of indigenous peoples. They are so preoccupied with their own institutional concerns that they don’t have time or resources for those who are pushed to the margins of society. Perhaps, they have heard their cry for mercy, but responding to them with compassion is not their concern. That is perhaps the concern of some government agencies or some non-government organizations. But definitely, it is not the concern of the church, because the church is supposed to be concern only about religious and spiritual matters.

Recognizing the Faith

But Jesus Christ our Lord recognized the great faith of the Canaanite Woman.
She did not give up even when she was despised by the disciples and by Jesus Christ our Lord himself. Instead, she firmly believed that Jesus could do something to restore her daughter into wholeness. Jesus Christ said to the Canaanite Woman, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want would be done for you” (v. 28). And at that very moment her daughter was healed.

There is also a need for us and for our churches today to see the great faith of the indigenous peoples – their faith that the church, the mystical body of Christ, could do something about their miserable situation. Indeed, our churches today should also recognize the faith of our indigenous peoples, and share with them in their struggles to realize their visions and dreams for their children. They should be in solidarity with the indigenous peoples. Like Jesus Christ our Lord, may our churches today be able to say to our indigenous peoples, “You are a people of great faith! What you want will be done for you,” and do something about it. Amen.# nordis.net


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