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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 14, 2011 (20A)
By Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S.
Did you ever try to help someone out but only to find that your help really wasn't appreciated? The disciples seemed to be caught in such a tug-of-war. Here they were trying to help out Jesus, but He just wouldn't cooperate! Jesus was the one who wanted to get away. He went far away into another country called Tyre. He is the One who told everyone not to tell anyone about where He was staying. He wanted to be quiet. A kind of vacation or retreat. A time to be spiritually close to God. He wanted to be alone with the disciples. However, as in real life, Jesus found these planned retreats can be rudely interrupted.
Jesus was in this Canaanite land to find quietness. His healing ministry caused a great commotion wherever He went in Israel. The religious leaders were beginning to get antagonistic and show their resistance to the God they pledged to love. But no matter why Jesus was there, He always did His Father's will. His disciples were less slow to learn it.
In the gospel today, we should first complement this woman on her faith. No matter how many obstacles in her way, she persisted. Though the disciples were not being helpful here - "Send her away!" We see Jesus was none too cooperative either. But it is here we see a great difference between the disciples and Jesus. The disciples took the smaller goal of being alone and made it their primary goal. They became blind to God's larger will. Even if God had them go so far away to actually meet someone's special need, they could not see this.
Jesus on the other hand was playing it out. He knew His goal was to be alone and refreshed. He was to have private time with His disciples, but He always wanted to do the Father's will even at His great inconvenience. I'm not trying to say that this was hard or easy for Jesus. He could easily have healed this woman's afflicted daughter, but when one gets away, enters a relaxation mode and begins to unwind a bit, even good things can be harder than usual to do.
I suppose it is like a person having their eyes narrowly focused through his binoculars but needs to wait for a minute for his eyes to adjust. How did Jesus test whether this was a real need from the Father for Him to attend to or just another disruption from the evil one? Jesus responded four times to the woman's persistent pleading.
Firstly, we see Jesus was absolutely quiet. He said nothing. The first test is to ascertain real need. If the person seeking you can be quiet, then they need no special care.
Secondly, Jesus stated His mission, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Jesus analyzed the request in light of the mission God had sent Him on. In this case, we clearly see that Jesus was sent to His own people - the Jews. Jesus was very mission-conscious. The woman saw this too, but it didn't stop her.
Thirdly, Jesus tested her faith. He shared a story that excluded her from gaining a portion of God's goodness. But her desperateness, her willingness to humbly respond, and yes-- her faith, all came alive in her tremendously astute answer, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." If this woman's request was from the Father, then He would send someone with faith. Faith is a gift of God.
Lastly, we note Jesus' clear affirmation of her faith and an announcement that her daughter suffering from severe demonic oppression would be fine, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." Jesus was poised to rest, but His delight was to care for people God had sent to Him no matter what he was doing.
We need to be focused. But the focus, the mission, the ministry, the duty and present responsibilities that we hold on to will all be tested. As Jesus' disciples, we might be disgusted with a person's persistent requests. Our plans, though, must always be ready for the exception. Whether we are on vacation, spiritual retreat, or just plain tired sitting in our backyard, we need to be alert to possible interruptions. We should not easily give up our mission's focus. We will be tested. However, we must not lose focus by others that are wishing for us to short cut the necessary tests to discern what the Father's will is. We might use the silent test or the 'no' test.
But when desperate faith is so apparent and confirmed in our spirits, then we should know our Heavenly Father has sent them and will give us all the extraordinary grace to meet that special need.