Gospel Reflection 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
In Times of Darkness
In today’s Gospel (Matt 15:21-28) a troubled mother pleads with Jesus to cure her tormented daughter. We are surprised to read that he answered her not a word. It’s so unlike Jesus. But he knew what he was doing. He was drawing out deeper depths of her faith. A passage from the Old Testament explains why God allowed the Israelites to experience such hardships and darkness during their forty years in the wilderness. It was “to humble you, to test you, to know your inmost heart. God was training you as a parent trains a child” (Deut. 8:15). Jesus was drawing out the inner depths of the woman’s faith. An immediate answer to her request might not have been fully appreciated. Her persistence developed a deeper faith. Now he could say to her, “Woman, great is your faith. Let your wish be granted.” She is a model of faith in three qualities: persistence, humility and a sense of humour.
She is in desperation for the sake of her daughter but her persistence is remarkable. She will not take no for an answer. She is like the woman of the parable who wears down a reluctant judge with the only weapon she had, her persistence. Jesus addresses her as “woman”. Is this a womanly strength? Is it forced on women as the only way to break through the hard-hearted logic of a world organised by men? She, a Canaanite, has to break through the man-made barriers of racial discrimination and cut through the red tape of ecclesiastical rules. Her motherly love will not be diverted. Love is greater than logic.
Although she is persistent yet her faith is also very humble. She kneels before Jesus. Her prayer is simplicity itself: “Lord, help me.”
This humble faith has room for humour. There is a sense of playfulness when Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs”. Jews commonly referred to other nations as dogs. The reader has to hear, not a racial slur, but a tone of humour in his voice. She catches the tone and enters the repartee. “Ah, yes, sir; but even the house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.”
If you meet somebody who has a great reputation for sanctity but has no sense of humour, then know that you are not dealing with genuine holiness. In time you will spot some ungodly anger or prejudice or contradiction of love.
When God is silent
The prophet Jeremiah has a beautiful saying about God’s love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my love for you”. But how does one survive when God is silent, just as Jesus initially did not answer a word to the Canaanite woman? She was a woman of great faith. Many of the mystical saints, people of great faith, experienced long periods of darkness and spiritual dryness. Saint Teresa of Calcutta lived for forty years without any consolations in prayer. She lived in union with the thirst experienced by Jesus on Calvary. Nobody, apart from a few people she trusted, suspected that she walked and prayed in darkness all those years.
One brave prisoner in a concentration camp scratched these lines on the wall of his cell. “I believe in the sun even when I do not see it shining. I believe in love even when I feel it not. I believe in God even when he is silent”.
In daylight we can see the objects all around us. But it is only in the darkness of night that our eyes stretch to the distant stars. In times of darkness, God is stretching and deepening our faith. “Woman, great is your faith”.
Sometimes the answer of God to our prayer is easily seen, but sometimes it is not. We pray for the grace of perseverance in prayer when it seems that God does not hear us.
The woman who approached Jesus was of a different race and religion. May we learn to respect people of every race and religion.
May God grant healing and peace to children who are very disturbed.
May God help parents to discern when to say “yes” to their children and when to say “no”.
O God, we trust in your wisdom and compassion as we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.