20th Sunday, O T Year A – 17
Is.56:1, 6-7/ Rom.11:13-15, 29-32/ Matt.15:21-28
In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Peter’s prayer was condensed into three words, “Lord, save me!” In today’s reading the Canaanite woman’s prayer is exactly the same.
Peter was the Lord’s chief disciple, the Canaanite woman was a pagan; but their prayer was the same, and the Lord responded to both.
Much has been said about the topic of prayer, and much more can be said and will be said about the topic of prayer. Well, the least we can say about prayer is that we are here to pray to God and to ask Him to answer our needs and petitions.
And what do others have to say about prayer? Mother Teresa has this to say: Prayer is not about asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts.
So, for Mother Teresa, prayer is total surrender to God’s call and letting Him do whatever He wants to do for us. Another quote, although not from a religious figure is this: Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one (Bruce Lee 1940-1973).
Oh yes, life is difficult and we have to handle it with prayer. There is this story of a man who bought a lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I will give the Church 10% of the winnings. He did not strike.
He bought another lottery ticket and he prayed: Lord, if I strike, I’ll give the Church 25%. Again, he did not strike. He bought another ticket and he prayed: Ok, Lord, ok. This time it will be 50-50. (So, will he strike?)
As we all know by now, the purpose of prayer is not to change God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. That being said about prayer, today’s gospel passage presents to us a unique scenario and also a unique encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman.
Jesus and His disciples had gone outside of Jewish territory into the region of Tyre and Sidon. When you are not on home ground, it is best that you keep a low profile and stay out of trouble. And that’s what Jesus and His disciples were doing.
Then out came this Canaanite woman shouting for Him, calling Him “Son of David” and to take pity on her for her daughter was tormented by the devil. We can imagine what a scene it was, and we can also imagine the disciples squirming at this embarrassing situation.
So desperate were they that they had to tell Jesus to give her what she wanted, probably because people were starting to look at them and wonder what was happening. And surprisingly, Jesus was silent.
It was like as if He didn’t care. It was so unlike Him. And when He finally said something, it was some puzzling thing about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Again, it was so unlike Jesus, and we ourselves may begin to start wondering.
And then with the woman kneeling at His feet and pleading “Lord, help me” He seemed to be insulting the woman by saying that it was not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.
At this point, the woman could have stood up and cursed and swore at Jesus. If He was not going to help her, then there was no need to be rude and insulting.
It is said that God gives three types of answers to prayers. He says YES and gives us whatever we want. He says NO and gives us something better. Or He says wait and gives us the best. That Canaanite woman came before Jesus to intercede for her daughter.
She didn’t have to go through all that pleading and kneeling, if not for the fact that she took on her daughter’s need and made it her need. And she was prepared to wait through thick and thin to have the need addressed.
This unique encounter and unique exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman highlights the vital element in interceding for others – and that is the power of intervention. To intervene is to involve oneself in a situation so as to alter an action or development.
The Canaanite woman interceded for her daughter and in doing so she also intervened between Jesus and her daughter. She stood between Jesus and her daughter. And in the end her daughter was healed and Jesus also affirmed her of her faith.
We have come for Mass to worship and to pray. Yes, we pray for ourselves, but more importantly we pray as the Church community, and as the Church we pray for others. And this is expressed in the Intercessory Prayers or the Prayers of the Faithful.
Because like the daughter of the Canaanite woman who was unable to help herself, there are people who are quite unable to pray for themselves. And we are called to intercede for them and to intervene for them before the Lord.
We need to persist in prayer with trustful confidence. Although the essential parts of prayer are adoration and thanksgiving, the prayer of petition plays a big part in our daily lives.
Christ himself has told us to ask him for these needs: “Ask and you shall receive.” Asking with fervor and perseverance proves that we have the “great Faith” we need to receive what Christ wants to grant us in response to our requests.
We must realize and remember that we do not always get exactly what we ask for, but rather, God gives us what He knows we really need, what He wants for us and what is really best for us.
As Christians, we also know that our particular request may not always be for our good, or for the final good of the person for whom we are praying.
But if the prayer is sincere and persevering we will always get an answer – one which is better than what we asked for.
The salvation of many depends on the prayer and sacrifice of a few. We may be few, but we have the power of intercession and to make a prayer intervention.
May we have the faith of that unnamed Canaanite woman to persevere in prayer and may we too experience the power of our prayer intervention. Amen.