20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     Maybe it’s a risk this early in the morning, but do me a favor and close your eyes for a second. Don’t actually fall asleep, I know in just a second, but as you close your eyes, 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. You have watched day in and day out as she suffers and as her suffering spreads to the rest of your family. You’ve reached out to all the so-called experts of the day and they have been able to do nothing. 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. So when you hear that Jesus is passing through your village you leave everything that you are doing and run out to meet Him in desperation. You fight through the crowds of everyone else who has gathered to see Jesus, you fight through the noise of all kinds of people begging for all kinds of things, just in the hopes 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, you collapse at His feet and gasp “Lord help me.” Knowing the Jesus has heard your prayer and so you are just waiting for Him 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.” You have just opened your heart to Jesus, you have begged Him with every ounce of energy you have and He has just dismissed you as quickly as possible. 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 you and He saves your daughter. So if you haven’t fallen asleep you can open your eyes. Can you imagine the desperation and you don’t even seem to get an answer from Jesus? As a matter of fact, Jesus, the one who is supposed to heal your daughter, seems to send you away. But the woman’s persistence pays off.

     Perhaps none of us can truly imagine ourselves that setting from 2,000 years ago, but the situation of this Canaanite woman is really not much different than most of our situations. How often in our lives do we turn to our Lord for something, do we pray in desperation, 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 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 how she never gave up? There were all kinds of excuses just for her to return to her home. There were all kinds of excuses for her not even to seek out Jesus. Even when Jesus appears to tell this woman no, she refuses to give up. Even, 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. Look Jesus could have simply given this woman the instant gratification she wanted. God knew before she even sought out Jesus that she was going to beg for her daughter to be healed. The first time this woman asked He didn’t really have to do anything else, He could have just wished that she would have been healed and that would have been enough. We see Him do that other places in the scriptures. But in His own way and in His own time, He tested her further and the woman was far better for it. For you see God doesn’t want just a passive faith from us. God doesn’t want a situation where all we do is cry out and say, “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. It wasn’t just about Jesus being a miracle worker, someone who could take care of what she needed. No, He wanted to be with her. He wanted to develop a relationship with her.

     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, He certainly performed allot of miracles in the bible, but that is not the primary reason that He came. He came to earth because He wants to be with us. He wants to be in relationship 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. So often we are just focused on what we need, on what we want, that we are begging God in desperation, but it really has nothing to do about a relationship with Him.

     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. If you count it in today’s gospel, three different times the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter. She could have walked away at any point, and maybe it would have been easier for her just to walk away. But she stayed she stayed with our Lord and begged for even the scraps of the table. The Canaanite woman knew that even just the scraps from Jesus could transform her entire life. 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 become 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 Jesus in faith searching for healing and found it, so to with the persistence of faith we will find healing in God’s time, in His way, in the manner that is most expedient for us. We have to have the humility to allow Jesus to determine how and when to answer our prayers. Our task is simply to trust; to trust that God who is all-powerful, who is all wise, who is Goodness Himself, 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 wants only what is best for each of us. No matter where we find ourselves in life, our job is to be like the Canaanite woman, to do our part, to show up and be active in our faith and then to trust that God is doing His part in His time and in His own way.

 

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 325.

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