THE POWER OF “POSITIVE DISOBEDIENCE”. HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Canaanite woman

Somewhere I read about three disobedient young men. A certain King makes a golden statue and gives a command that everyone in the kingdom must bow and worship the huge image at the sound of the musical ensemble. The penalty for a default is a forced visit to a deathly burning furnace.

The three young men, also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, decide not to obey the command of the king because they cannot worship any other apart from the Almighty God. For their disobedience, they are forced to visit the burning furnace, but to the amazement of all, nothing happens to them. God saves them because of their “positive disobedience.” (See Daniel 3).

Somewhere I also read a story about a woman who wanted justice done in her favor. Unfortunately, the best person who could adjudicate in her case is known to be godless, ruthless and lacks every trace of human affection.

The importunate woman, who is also a widow tries to talk to the judge to assist her, but he refuses. She decides to disobey the rules restraining her from coming to the judge. It takes a while, and the judge finally decides to grant her request because of her positive disobedience. (See Luke 18:1-8).

India got independence from the Britain in 1947. The independence comes following the persistence and positive disobedience (ethical or civil disobedience) of people like Mohandas Gandhi.

Following the British restraint of Indians from collecting and selling salt in their country, Gandhi led about 60,000 Indians on the 240 miles Salt March to the Arabian Sea in 1930. The impact of the civil action results to the emancipation of the people from colonial rule in less than two decades.

Today, the Gospel gives us a typical instance of “positive disobedience” within the dramatic encounter between our Lord Jesus Christ and a Canaanite woman. The woman comes to Jesus Christ and says: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon”.  Our Lord ignores her, and the disciples ask our Lord to send her away.

At a time, our Lord stops and tells her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When the woman hears this statement from Jesus, she COMES CLOSER and PAYS HOMAGE (worship) to our Lord and insists by saying: “Lord help me”!  

Again, our Lord tells her: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replies and says that even the dogs could eat the scraps from the master’s table. At this point, our Lord praises the woman for her faith and asks her to go in peace for an affirmative answer and her daughter receives healing at that hour.

What do you when someone says “NO” to your request or pretends not to hear when you call? The usual reaction would be to back off with some feelings of regret and even self-pity. When someone refuses to take a “no” for an answer, the individual appears to be disobedient or defiant.

The preceding is what the Canaanite woman did in the narrative. The initial silence of our Lord was enough to make her drop her request, but she decides to “disobey” and bugs our Lord Jesus Christ the more. We learn from the narrative that her “positive disobedience” leads to the answer to her request.

Another way to examine what the Canaanite did is to ask if it right or wrong. In other words, “is it right to pray for the healing of her child or not?” The First Reading (Isaiah 56:1,6-7) among other things gives us this answer:

 Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.

On the other hand, St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32) that God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

Our Canaanite friend was not wrong in her request. In fact, her insistence (positive disobedience) is what God requires of us as a proof of our faith whenever we are facing difficult situations.  God wants us to be unrelenting, consistent, and insistent when we approach Him in our prayers.

The Canaanite woman leaves us with some lessons:

  1. She comes close to the Lord.

The Gospel narrative tells us that she comes closer to the Lord. Coming closer to God is important in our relationship with Him. St. James (4:8) tells us to come near to God, and he would come near to us, and the Book of Psalms (145: 18) says that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.

  1. She pays homage to the Lord.

Paying homage means giving great respect and honor to someone publicly. In a religious sense, it means to worship. The Canaanite woman sacrifices the cultural divide between the Jews and the Canaanites and pays homage to the Lord.

Genuine worship demands deep sacrifice which entails giving up something of value for a greater value. Many people today attach so much importance to their material concerns that they have little or no time for God.

Our Lord tells us that everyone who acknowledges him publicly before others, he will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 12:8). Exodus (23:25) says: “worship the Lord your God, and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you.

  1. She never gives up

God’s silence is never a denial; it is rather and an invitation to pray more and believe more. The woman believes that our Lord Jesus Christ can heal her child and she could not take a no for an answer. She does not give up even when there are reasons for her to do so which includes our Lord’s silence and the disciples’ rude suggestion of outright eviction.

  1. She remains patient

The Prophet Isaiah says that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength (Is. 40:31). David says that he would be patient and wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 37:7). The Canaanite woman would have missed the chance of obtaining healing for her child if she was not patient with the Lord. Sometimes we need to be a little more patient, and things will turn out well.

  1. She speaks out

The Canaanite woman is not only insistent with her presence, homage, and patience, she also speaks out and answers every statement with a positive submission. There is power in spoken words; our words go a long way to form of lives. The Prophet Isaiah (65:24) says: “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”

As we reflect on the actions of this noble woman of Canaan whose name we do not know, let us adopt the lessons in her experience into our daily struggle with the events and situations that challenge our faith.

Do not give up even when no answer seems to come from the Lord. Last Sunday notice that our Lord calls Peter a man of little faith because he gave up today the Canaanite woman gets the title of a woman of great faith because she held onto her faith knowing that the Lord can help her situation.

May your steadfast grip on the Lord bring graces into your life.

Fr. Bonnie.

3 Comments on “THE POWER OF “POSITIVE DISOBEDIENCE”. HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

  1. A great lesson to learn. Thank You Fr Bonnie.May God continue to bless you.

  2. Respect is give and take. Respect to man is respect to God. which Can
    take us higher in life.

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