20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A Homily - A Cycle - 2004-2005


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First Reading - Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 67:2-3, 4, 5, 6, 8
Second Reading - Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Gospel - Matthew 15: 21-28

Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is tormented by a demon."  But he did not say a word in answer to her.  His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."  He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me."  He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."  She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."  Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish."  And her daughter was healed from that hour.Perhaps a good way to better understand the Canaanite woman in today's Gospel and the nature of her interaction with the Lord Jesus, is to examine another character in the 19th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel - the rich young man.  You'll recall that the rich young man is a Jew who comes forward to ask Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus instructs him to keep the commandments.  The rich young man is encouraged by this because he has kept the commandments all of his life.  Then Jesus raises the ante.  Jesus says that in order to be perfect - to get to heaven - one must go and sell all that he has and follow Him.

What is the rich young man's reaction?  He goes away sad, for he had many possessions.  How sad indeed.  After Jesus summons the challenge, the rich young man walks away.  He never asks Jesus if he can give a little bit at a time or if he can take steps to divesting himself.  Instead, the rich young man lacks perseverance and he walks away sad.  Where is the drive or the zeal to try to figure out a way with Jesus so as to become a true disciple?  It's not there at all.  The rich young man cannot see the relationship between what God's invitation and the true happiness that awaits him.  Sadly, he fades away.

By contrast, the Canaanite woman is a bold woman, who does not relent.  Not only is she a woman - she's a foreign woman and her calling out to Jesus was already a great act of courage.  During this period of history, women were treated like second class citizens and foreign women were yet another step below.  They were not to be spoken to by respectable Jewish men.  This is partly why the Lords disciples want to get rid of her - they don't want Jesus seen conversing with a foreign woman, a social taboo.  The woman's boldness is matched by her persistence and perseverance.  She so loves her daughter that she will do whatever she can and endure whatever social castigation she may receive in order to have Jesus heal her child.  Unlike the rich young man who does not appear to have the determination to become a saint, the Canaanite woman "sticks with it."  She will not take "no" for an answer.  Lastly, we see how the Canaanite woman approaches Jesus.  She does not make her request with a sense of entitlement.  In fact, she presents herself as unworthy to even make her request.  There is not an ounce of presumption on her part when she begs Jesus for a cure.

This Canaanite woman's boldness in prayer; her perseverance and persistence; and her humble disposition rooted in a deep love for her child, provides a wonderful model for all of us as we approach Christ in prayer and petition.  We should not give up so easily in prayer when we do not get what we ask for or if we have difficulty praying.  The Canaanite woman shows us that perseverance pays off. 

When we pray, we should come forward in humility, not expecting what we ask for peer se.  Instead, St. Augustine reminds us that we should ask for the grace to accept what God wants for us, for He already knows our needs and what is in our hearts.  We ought to be praying more for the grace of acceptance, not for what we think we need in life, for after all - the Father knows best.

Lastly, we ought to consider our Lord's somewhat strange reaction to the Canaanite woman's request.  At first, he is silent and does not even acknowledge her presence.  When he finally does converse with her, He isn't exactly warm and fuzzy, as many people would like to think Jesus was like.  Of course, we cannot say that Christ lacked charity and therefore sinned.

So, how are we to understand his actions?  In delaying a response and delaying an immediate cure, our Lord tests and challenges her faith in order to draw her into even deeper faith in Him so that she is keenly aware of his infinite power.  St. John Vianney once wrote, "We often find that our Lord does not grant us what we ask for immediately; he delays meeting our request so that our desire might better increase in ardor so that we might better appreciate the value of what we ask for.  It is not a refusal but a test that prepares us to receive more abundantly what we desire."

As we continue with the celebration of this Holy Mass, let the example of the Canaanite woman compel us to pray boldly and with perseverance and humility.  May we not go away sad, like the rich young man, when we do not receive what we ask for from God.  And may the example of the Canaanite woman's example remind us of our need to be open to His timetable and plans and that we sometimes need to wait and be patient with the Lord, who is so very patient with each of us.

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever! 

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