20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Sunday 20th August 2017)
To read the Gospel of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, please click here
Praying with great faith – (Matthew 15:21-28)
In the Gospel today, Jesus goes for the first time outside of Israel into Gentile and pagan territory. And a woman appears on the scene who must have heard about Jesus somehow. She has a daughter tormented by a demon. She is desperate to help her daughter so she goes to Jesus. Many of us, in our own lives, may have a loved one who is in trouble or is sick or who is going astray in some way. And so this woman knows that Jesus is the one who can help her daughter. She cries out, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me.’ But surprisingly, Jesus does not answer her at all.
We all have had the experience at some stage of really praying for something but feeling like we have hit a brick wall and that the Lord is deaf to our cry. Well, the Lord knows exactly what He is doing. In this Gospel, perhaps he is doing this in a way that He is strengthening her faith. Well, the disciples say, ‘ Give her what she wants because she is shouting after us’. They want to send her away. How often the disciples are trying to keep people away from Jesus instead of bringing them to Jesus. She comes and kneels at this feet; ‘Lord, help me’. So this woman is a model of faithful persistence and prayer. She will not be put off and she will keep asking knowing that the Lord is somehow hearing her prayer. But then Jesus responds with what seems to be a rebuff. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel’. What He means is that God’s promise of a Messiah was given originally to His chosen people, the Jews. And so the coming of the Messiah and the fulfilment of all of God’s blessings and promises are first and foremost for His people of Israel. But God’s plan, even from the beginning, even from the call of Abraham way back in the Old Testament, was ultimately that through the Jewish people His blessings and His salvation would go out to the whole world. So Jesus says to this woman, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs’. It is really a little parable. ‘Dogs’ was the word used for the Gentiles.
Now, if I was that woman, I might have taken offense at that. But that woman is not put off. In fact she retorts to Jesus with a counter-parable of her own. She says, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’. In other words she is asking Jesus how He can refuse His blessings even to a Gentile like her. And Jesus is so thrilled at this lady’s faith. He loves how she refuses to take no for an answer. She bothers Jesus with her prayer and we see that Jesus wants to be bothered. He says, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted’. The woman went home and found her daughter healed. So what this story is teaching us is that in order to experience the power of the Lord and His saving graces, we do not have had to have been on earth with Him as He was walking the streets of Galilee and Tyre and Sidon. All we need is great faith. In fact this is one of two miracles in the Gospels that is done without Jesus going to the sick person, without Him laying His hands on them. We see it in the story of the Centurion and his servant who is very unwell. In both cases they are Gentiles who come to Jesus and in both cases they have great faith. And He is so thrilled to see that faith.
Now when we pray, we won’t always receive an answer to prayer in exactly the way we want or the way we expect. But if we pray persistently with great faith knowing that the Lord loves us and that His gift of salvation is for us and for all who believe in Him, we will see an answer to our prayer. We will see our own hearts open up more and more to the good things that God wants to do for us. This is really a story to increase our faith in the love, grace and mercy of the Lord.
To view previous Gospel Reflections, please click here!