20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

IS 56: 1,6-7 / PS 67,2-3, 5, 6, 8 / Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 / MT 15: 21-28

     Like all of you I have been greatly disturbed seeing the images of our Christian brothers and sisters being murdered for their faith in the Middle East. While the images are chilling I find myself inspired by their heroic actions. Anytime someone is killed for their faith it is a horrific injustice, but amidst the injustice we are invited to learn and be inspired by their witness. Our persecuted brothers and sisters are daily making a bold statement; they are saying their faith, their love of Jesus Christ, is the most important thing in their life. Their faith is their pearl of great price for which they are willing to sell everything, including their life, to obtain it.

     I pray that the witness of our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East resonates with each and every one of us. I pray that their suffering brings us into a deeper relationship with our Lord. Rather than sit here and question our faith asking why God would allow such atrocities to occur I pray we take a moment to look at our faith and ask ourselves if we have gotten into the bad habit of seeing God as the “slot machine God.” Have we begun to believe the lie, that our faith is simply demanding and expecting that God will bend to our will, that somehow I put a coin into the slot and receive a pay out?

     In today’s Gospel Jesus encounters a woman who is seeking after faith. The Canaanite woman shows us that faith requires perseverance. Three different times in today’s Gospel the Canaanite woman was turned away by Jesus and it would have been very easy for her to simply walk away, but she stays with our Lord and begs for even the scraps of the table. The Canaanite woman knows Jesus can transform here. She knows Jesus alone will satisfy her deepest desires and so she continues to go back to Jesus. She shows us faith requires work.

     Pope Benedict, long before he was pope, summarized the need for true faith best when he said “we will know God to the extent that we give Him room to be present in us.”[1] If we want to have faith, which Pope Benedict says is “first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus,”[2] we must give Him room to be present in us. Often however we don’t give God that room, rather we interpret His apparent silence as Him being distant from us and we turn to other people or things in an attempt to break through the silence of God. We either turn to resenting God or we try to punish God by giving into destructive addictions.

     While I know encountering silence in our prayer can make us nervous, is silence really such a bad thing after all? Last spring I was flying to New York City to visit a high school and my dad was kind enough to take me to the airport. We had a discussion for a while and then things went silent in the car and that was just fine, my father and I have a very good relationship and I was very comfortable being in the same place with him in silence. There was just something enjoyable about sitting in silence with my dad. Fast forward to arriving in NY where someone who I didn’t know picked me up and after exchanging pleasantries the car went silent, and it was really awkward. What was the difference between those two car rides. While they both had some talking and then silence, I was comfortable with my dad because of the relationship we have. The same is true with God. Shouldn’t we who know that God loves us and wants a deep personal relationship with us be comfortable just sitting in silence with the Lord?

     A silent God does not mean a distant God. Simply because God does not appear to answer our prayers does not mean our faith is weak, or we haven’t put enough money in the slot machine yet to receive the payout, but rather just as with the Canaanite woman He is working in the midst of that silence to strengthen our faith. For I know that a silent God purifies and strengthens our faith.

     The Canaanite woman challenges each and every one of us to deepen our faith. We are challenged to grow from seeing our faith as simply a slot machine to see it as it truly is a relationship with Jesus. If God feels distant we should be like the Canaanite woman and be persistent in asking for greater faith. Even when God seems silent we should enjoy the car ride in silence with God. As we approach the altar to receive Lord let us surrender ourselves and offer our entire lives over to Him. Let us invite the Lord to deepen our relationship with Him so that in complete faith and trust we can say Thy will be done.

[1] Dogma and Preaching pg 325.

[2] Church Fathers and Teachers pg 160

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