20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     Do me a favor. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as the woman in today’s Gospel. Here’s the situation, your daughter is at home tormented by a demon, you have tried everything to heal her and as your hope for a cure is fading you hear that Jesus is passing through your village. While you have never spoken with Jesus, you have heard about all of the miracles and healings that He has performed and you have come to accept Him as the Lord. When you hear that Jesus is passing through your village you run out to meet Him in desperation. You fight through the crowds hoping that you can get close enough to Him that He will hear you beg to heal your daughter. All of the sudden Jesus hears you and you collapse at His feet and gasp “Lord help me.” Knowing the Jesus has heard your prayer you wait for Jesus to tell you He will save your daughter. But He doesn’t heal your daughter, rather He tells you that “it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to dogs.” Jesus has just called you a dog, and while you could easily put your tail between your legs and walk away, you are so desperate for your daughter to be healed that you persist in crying out begging Him just to give you the scraps and at last Jesus hears your faith and saves your daughter.

     While perhaps none of us can truly imagine ourselves in that situation, the situation of this Canaanite woman is really not much different than most of our situations. How often do we pray to our Lord for some need in our life, only to have it seem as though our prayer has fallen on deaf ears? When these prayers go unanswered, can we not be tempted to wonder if God is powerful enough to answer our prayers, to question, if He cares, or even to ask if He is ignoring us? It is precisely in these moments, when we feel that our deepest prayers are not being heard that we need to become like the Canaanite woman.

     Did you notice that the Canaanite woman never gave up? Even in the face of humiliation, when it seemed like every glimmer of hope was gone, she continued to place herself at God’s mercy and in so doing God worked far greater works through her than if He had just quickly answered her prayer. You see Jesus saw more in this Canaanite woman then she could see herself. He saw in her a faith that could withstand any assault; a love that was divine; a hope that could not be shaken. He tested her and she found something within herself that she didn’t even know existed. While Jesus could have simply given this woman the instant gratification she wanted, He tested her further and the woman was far better for it. For the faith that God wants from us is not passive. God does not want the sort of faith that says, “God is going to take care of everything, so I can sit back and coast.” No, faith involves something active on our part. It demands constant prayer and faith, so in delaying His response to the Canaanite woman, Jesus purified her faith.

     God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none. He is willing to pull our faith out of us to test us and to purify it. Jesus didn’t come to just work miracles, no He came to be with us and “we will know God to the extent that we give Him room to be present in us.”[1] God doesn’t just want us to use Him for some miracle, He wants to be with us. When we feel that our prayers are not being answered, we must step back and give Him room to be present in us.

     My friends, a silent God does not mean a distant God. Simply because God does not seem to answer our prayers does not mean our faith is weak, but rather just as with the Canaanite woman He is working in the midst of that silence to strengthen our faith. Three different times in today’s Gospel the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter and while it would have been very easy for her to simply walk away, she stayed with our Lord and begged for even the scraps of the table. The Canaanite woman knew that Jesus could transform here. She knew Jesus alone could  satisfy her deepest desires and so she continued to go back to Jesus. She shows us faith requires work.

     You and I must be like this woman. We must recognize that God came among us with healing power and He is looking for our faith. Just as the Canaanite woman came to God in faith searching for healing and found it, so to with the persistence of faith we will find healing in God’s time, in the time that is most expedient for us. It is Jesus’ task to determine how and when to answer our prayers, it is our task is to trust. To trust that God who is all-powerful, who is all wise, who is Goodness itself, who came into this earth to die for us, does have our best interest in mind. His plan is to save us, to draw us into a life of eternal happiness with Himself, we must make room for Him in our hearts and surrender to His will, trusting that He only wills what is best for each of us.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.

Pg 325.

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