THE POWER OF PERSISTENT PRAYER
HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
“Father! How long do I need to pray before getting an answer from God? It makes no sense to me praying for the same thing all the time. It scares me, as things keep getting worse as I pray. I feel that I need to take a break from praying!” This was what someone who came to consult me with over some pressing issues said. My first response was a simple question: “what do you plan to do as an alternative to prayer?” Of course, I did not get an answer!
Some of us may have had the experience of getting a “no” over a request when we expected a resounding “yes.” Those times we feel that we have done our best and put in a lot. It could be those moments in your life when you are remarkably close to success, but you still cannot have it, and you have two options; to boldly give up or to “foolishly” continue to try!
The description above fits the experience of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel narrative today (Matt. 15:21-28). The Gospel tells us that our Lord withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon after addressing the Pharisees and the Scribes who wanted to know why his disciples could not keep the tradition of the elders with regards to washing hands before meals.
Notice here that our Lord went beyond the Jewish boundaries by going over to that Gentile region. Now a woman shows up with a very pressing request; the healing for her daughter tormented by a demon. She may have thought that since our Lord Jesus, a Jew, broke the traditional protocols by crossing to the Gentile region, he could also overcome the inter-tribal barriers between Jews and Gentiles and heal her daughter. The First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah (56:1, 6-7) tells us among other things that foreigners will benefit from the house of God.
The narrative tells us that Jesus did not say a word to her first request, “have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! A demon torments my daughter”. The woman did not give up; she followed Jesus, and his disciples probably repeating the same thing. In fact, the disciples asked Jesus to send her away, but he allowed her and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In response, the woman did homage to the Lord and said, “Lord, help me.” Furthermore, our Lord said, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
One would expect this poor woman to give up at this point Jesus seems to liken her to a dog, but she gives a fantastic reply, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. At this, Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish, and instantly her daughter was healed.
Timeless Lessons from the Canaanite Woman
There are many things we could learn from the faith-filled request of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel narrative today that could help us recharge and rejuvenate our prayer lives.
Reverent Approach: The woman comes to our Lord with profound reverence and respect, and not with an unnecessary outburst of entitlement. Notice that each time she spoke, she referred to Jesus as Lord. St. Paul tells the Romans (10:9), “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” She also called Jesus “Son of David,” which means the Messiah; in other words, the savior. Finally, she worshiped the Lord. It takes faith to give a true worship (John 4:24).
Persistence and Patience: The Canaanite woman comes with persistent faith in her request for the healing of her daughter but not without patience. Faith is impossible without patience, which involves waiting for God to act (Psalm 37:7). David says I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined to me and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1). The Book of the Lamentations (3:25) says that God is good to those who wait for Him, the souls that seek Him,
Moving Forward: Faith Does Not Give Up
Life has a lot to do with faith. In the Gospel Reading of last Sunday (Matt. 14:22-33), Jesus called Peter (a Jew) a man of little faith. In the Gospel of this Sunday, an unnamed woman (a Gentile) received the name “woman of great faith.” This tells us that we are either “faith-filled” or “faith-less” as we march through the corridors of life.
One common thing with faith wherever you see it is that it does not give up. We often face a similar experience like the Canaanite woman in our life’s journey when we ask and do not receive, and we feel the pressure to give up and back off.
All winners share one thing in common, and that is persistence; they do not quit. And that is the simple reason quitters do not win. You have gone too far to give up. You have invested so much why do you have to back off? Do not give up on that dream; do not give up on that plan; do not give up on that prayer. Yes, you have been on it for a long time now, and it does not seem to make sense do not quit; push on to stay in the game.
It often gets worse before it gets better. There would be an end to all these hurdles and challenges. Do not be weary in pushing on against all the odds, St. Paul says that God will answer you in due season if you do not give up (Gal.6:9).
Have a wonderful weekend and a refreshing week ahead; God bless you.