The Canaanite Woman as Model of Trustful Persistence
20th Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year A
Last week, we have learned lessons from our “storms in life.” In my reflection, I highlighted fear as a form of anxiety. Anxiety which could either be HELPFUL/HEALTHY or USELESS depending on how we treat it. Faith is the antidote to overcome our fears. We’ve witnessed this firsthand from St. Peter (last Sunday’s Gospel) who almost drowned into the raging waters. His fear got the best of him until Jesus came to his rescue saying, “Oh, you of little faith!” And so, this Sunday, we ask ourselves these questions: Will we be able to overcome the test? Or, will we be able to keep the faith amidst the “stormy” world we live in?
Many years ago, in Illinois, a young man with six months of formal schooling to his credit, ran for an office in the legislature. As might have been expected, he was beaten. Next, he entered business but failed in that too, and spent the next seventeen years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady, they became engaged – and she got sick and died, causing her lover a mini nervous breakdown. He ran for Congress and was defeated. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office but didn’t succeed. He became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later, he was defeated in a race for the Senate. He ran for President and finally was elected. The president was Abraham Lincoln.
Today's Gospel presents a Canaanite woman who persisted in her prayer and obtained from the Lord what she prayed for. Let us take notice and learn from this woman out of this beautiful narrative:
1. “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matt. 15:22) In the Gospel narrative, we can observe that Jesus first ignores both the persistent plea of the woman as well as His disciples’ impatience as they wanted to drive her away from Him. He then tries to awaken the faith of the woman by an indirect refusal saying, “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” But those words did not stop her. She persisted in her request. She knelt before Him and begged him saying, “Lord, help me!”
Most of the time, we find ourselves on the same footing as the Canaanite woman. We become desperate. We need immediate help or attention and so we ask God for help. But unlike this woman, we are not as persistent as she was. When the storms become harder to bear, we give up. We lose hope. We drown in fear! The woman responded to Jesus in trustful persistence and obtains what she prayed for in the process. Note that a prayer that is sincere and persevering will ALWAYS be answered!
2. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (Matt. 15:27). Before this faith-filled response from the woman, Jesus said something a bit harsh to her. Jesus said, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Well, you heard it right. It is what it is! The term “dogs” was a derogatory Jewish word for the Gentiles whom they consider to be “outsiders.” Dogs were considered unclean because they eat just about anything that is offered to them including food that is considered to be unclean. The woman, however, noticed that Jesus used the term “dogs” to refer to household “pets” which do not necessarily mean as a derogatory remark and so again, Jesus was testing her faith. She showed great faith by responding to Jesus in this way, “Dogs or Pets are not ‘outsiders’ but ‘insiders.’ They are like family to its owners just like how we domesticate our pets. While they do not seat at the table, they enjoy the family’s care and company.” With this response, Jesus was so convinced about her faith.
Today, on top of the pandemic, we experience a reality of various forms of discrimination as to race, color, gender, nationality, preferences, religion, etc. Today’s Gospel is a clear testament to the universality of God’s love and mercy. They are extended to all who call on Him in faith and trust, no matter who they are. Just as we have been so privileged to have received the fullness of those graces by our baptism, we are responsible to exercise and extend them to ALL and not only to a few of our brothers and sisters. We are to make clear to others, with true humility and compassion, that God's love, mercy, and healing are also for them because they too are children of God. [baptism/communion reference]
Finally, to use a Jesuit’s (Fr. Ben Carlos, SJ) method of processing once’s emotion (believing that you are what you feel), let us follow the same steps as we begin our journey of faith with Jesus. Let us be AWARE of His presence and NAME our faith: “Lord, help me. Jesus help me. I believe in You!” Let us then CLAIM it by saying, “Jesus, I am confident that you will answer my prayer.” Then DECIDE to take appropriate action by doing our work to make clear to others the universality of God’s love and mercy.
May we become men and women of great faith in the very eyes of God!
God bless us all!