READINGS: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 / Romans 11:13-15, 29-32/ Matthew 15:21-28
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
God desires to save all men, women, and children (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). That is, the offer of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is for all. Access to this offer of salvation is through faith in God and obedience to Him. This is a message which runs through the three readings of today.
The experiences of the Jews while in exile in Babylon and of how God delivered them and brought them back to their land changed their perspective on an aspect of God’s salvation – namely, that God’s salvation is not limited to a particular people. One of their experiences was the fact that the gentile king of Babylon praised God of Israel when He delivered the three young Jews from the fiery furnace.
The gentile king acknowledged that God is almighty, and he decreed that all the peoples of the nations in his empire should revere the God. (Daniel 3:91-100). Another experience was that God delivered the Jews from exile through Cyrus, the gentile King of Babylon; and God used this gentile King to facilitate the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-11).
With such experiences, God inspired the Jews to come to the realization that His salvation is offered to peoples of all nations and races who have faith in Him and obey Him. Thus, when the Jews had returned from exile, the prophet proclaimed to them: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come …. Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, the Lord will surely separate me from his people…. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants … these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer …’” (Isaiah 56:1-7, RSV; first reading).
Faith was what led the foreigners of old to join the Jews to worship the Living God and to keep His commandments. They believed that He is the Creator-God, the only Living God. Therefore, for the ailing daughter of the Canaanite woman (a foreigner) to experience healing or salvation, she who was making the request had to express faith in God. Hence, Jesus engaged the woman in a dialogue that gradually led her to express great faith in God.
Once this was achieved, her daughter was healed: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire.
And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matt. 15:28). Today’s gospel reading is, therefore, not about the restriction of Jesus’ ministry or mission to only Jews. On the contrary, it speaks of the fact that God’s salvation in Jesus is for all who have faith in Him.
Consider this: most of us are not descendants of Abraham by natural blood. However, by faith, we have become the children of Abraham, the Father of Faith (cf. second reading). In other words, by faith the door of salvation in Jesus has been opened to us. But like the foreigners of old who, besides believing in God, obeyed Him or His commandments, so good works should accompany our faith in the Lord.
Furthermore, the first reading speaks of God hearing the prayers of both the faithful Jews and the believing foreigners in the Temple (His house of prayer). In the New Testament, Jesus is the new Temple (remember: He said that destroy the Temple and I will rebuild it in three days, while referring to His death and resurrection, John 2:19-21). It is, therefore, in and through Jesus (the new Temple) that the Father hears our prayers.
Another lesson: as the request of the Canaanite woman was not answered at the first instance, but she was eventually answered because she persevered, so we need to persevere in prayers. Are you persevering in prayer, yet things are getting worse? Do not give up, for your answer may be one more ‘prayer’ away! Remember, the Canaanite woman’s plight was getting worse and worse, but she did not give up until she was answered: firstly, Jesus was silent; secondly, she was told she did not qualify (for she was not part of the house of Israel); and thirdly, she seemed to have been referred to as a dog.
Beloved, if the Lord seems to be silent, continue to pray. If after a period of no answer to your prayers, your sins make you feel that, after all, you are not worthy to ask God for favours, turn your guilty feelings into confession, and pray the more! And if your situation is still getting worse, pray with more intensity! And soon the Lord will answer you: “O woman [or man], great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire”!
Beloved, let us sum up this homily in the following five points: firstly, God desires all of us to be saved. Secondly, we have access to His salvation by faith and obedience to Him. Thirdly, God hears the prayers of all who approach Him with faith and obedient hearts. Fourthly, a seemingly delay to our prayers is a call to perseverance and to grow our faith. Finally, a prayer of faith and perseverance will eventually be answered. Amen!