Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Canaanite Woma

This past Sunday's gospel (Mt.15:21-28) found Jesus and his disciples in foreign territory - the Canaanite areas of Tyre and Sidon. Being strangers, they didn't want to call too much attention to themselves. They hoped to just do whatever they needed to do and make their way back to familiar territory. If they had been in a car, they would have rolled up the windows, locked the doors and made their way to the nearest highway exit trying not to make eye contact with anyone. So, you can imagine the stress it caused them when the Canaanite woman recognized them and started calling out for Jesus. They wanted her to go away, and they wanted to get away themselves.

But, she refused to let up. She wouldn't let her one opportunity to meet Jesus slip through her hands. And, she was in desperate need. Her daughter was afflicted by a decision with no hope of cure in site - until Jesus somehow found his way across the border into a foreign village. She had the home field advantage, and she wasn't about to let up.

After talking to the woman, Jesus surprisingly refused to help her because she was not Jewish. But, she would still not give up until Jesus, recognizing her faith, granted her request to relieve her daughter of her affliction. The woman's great persistence was a reflection of the depth of her faith - a depth of faith which Jesus could not ignore.

Now, it may shock us to think that Jesus would be capable of ignoring a woman in such obvious distress. It goes against the compassionate image of him that we so often encounter in the gospels. Could it be that Jesus was really not going to help her? Could it be that Jesus was really willing to allow her daughter to continue suffering just because she belonged to another race and another religion?

On the contrary, I believe that Jesus pretended to ignore the woman to teach a lesson to his disciples who were with him that day and to us who hear this gospel proclaimed today. Jesus must have sensed the woman's distress and seen the faith in her heart. Jesus somehow knew she wouldn't take "no" for an answer and that she wouldn't give up. By forcing the woman to pursue him, he wanted to teach us about the need to persevere in prayer, to not give up even though it seems that our prayers will never be answered and our needs will never be met.

The history of the Church is full of stories of mothers who, like the woman in the gospel, persevered in praying for their children over many years. One of the most moving stories is that of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, though a bright young man, lived many years of his life without direction. He was seeking happiness and peace, but didn't know where to find it. His mother, Monica, prayed for him consistently as he looked into different philosophies and different ways of life all looking for the joy and peace his mother knew he would only find through faith in Jesus. Eventually, after many years of intercession, Monica finally saw her prayers answered when Augustine embraced the gift of faith and turned his life over to Jesus. He was ordained a bishop and became known for his powerful sermons and writings, becoming one of the Church's greatest saints.

The prayer of mothers is very powerful indeed, because it is motivated by deep love and faith. Many of us can point to the prayers and examples of our own mothers and grandmothers as reasons why we came to take our faith seriously. And, I can attest that mothers are in church daily on their knees in prayer for their children who may be having difficulties in school, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, having difficulties in their marriage or struggling with illness. Thankfully, mothers never give up in their prayers for us and for the world.

Last week, we celebrated the feast of the great Mother of the Church, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like a good mother, she never ceases to bring our prayers to her son for us. No matter what we may need and no matter how long it may take, a devotion to the Mother of God assures us that Jesus will hear and answer our prayers.

Our families, our Church and our world have many needs. There is much pain and suffering everywhere we look. With the love and faith we find in our mothers, we must never give up in bringing our prayers to Jesus. If Jesus delays in answering us, then we must pray even harder. Jesus hears us and sees the faith in our hearts. Jesus will answer eventually if we do not let up. We can be especially assured that he will answer if we enlist his mother, Mary, as our ally.


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