Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Bible Study Isaiah 56:1,6-7, Romans 11:13-32 and Matthew 15: 21-28
“And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:23)
In our Gospel passage last Sunday, Jesus dismisses the crowds, sends His disciples across on a boat to create time for personal prayers. The whole life of Jesus is itself a sermon on prayers. Jesus repeatedly told us that whatever we ask in prayer, we shall receive so long as we believe. (Cf. Matthew 17:20, 21:22, John 16:24). Peter experiments the power of his faith when he walked on water but the moment he took his gaze away from Jesus, he became afraid of the storms and started sinking. To receive from God, we must never give room for any doubt in our minds. But is that enough? This brings us to our lessons for today:
1. Faith Works but It is not Magic.
Have you ever prayed for something only to get silence from God? This was the experience of the Canaanite Woman in today’s Gospel passage. As Matthew tells us, this woman “came out and cried: ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying: ‘Send her away, for she is crying after us.’” (Matthew 15:22-23).
Note that the wordings of this woman’s cry for help are exactly the same as that of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. And just like this woman, Jesus did not answer him at first. Again, just as the disciples of Jesus were asking him to send this woman away for her “disturbance”, the crowd pressing around Jesus rebuked Bartimaeus asking him to be silent but he cried all the more until Jesus himself stopped and said: “Call him.” (Cf. Mark 10:47-52, Luke 18:35-41)
When it comes to faith, there are always obstacles here and there, discouragement and stumbling blocks but we must never give up; we must never say never until it is over - we must pray until something happens (P.U.S.H). Jesus told us: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew7:7-8) but He never gave us a time frame. Jesus even gave us the parable of the widow and the unjust judge to teach us to pray continuously. (Cf. Luke 18:2-8)
Very often, we give up too easily on God. We ask and we do not get immediately, then we begin to assume we would never get so we begin to find alternative solutions. Based on our fast-food-fast-everything-technologically-driven culture, we have lost the virtue of patience and this even affects our relations with God. Given our quest for instant miracles, many Christians have fallen prey to various tricksters and wolves who disguise as men and women of God. While faith waits on God and seeks to glorify God, magic is all about exultation of the magician. No wonder they do a lot of theatrics and boast as if God is just one of their servants. Be careful, don’t allow your desperation lead you into a trap.
2. God is not a Racist.
Often and often again, I hear many who equate Christianity with Colonialism in Africa; who think of Jesus Christ not as God but as some white man, not as the saviour and redeemer of mankind but as a political figure constantly used to oppress black people. I see a lot of people today trying to make blacks believe that the reason we are backward in the community of nations is that we embraced the Christian faith and abandoned the ways of our forefathers. They further buttress their lies and deceit by asking why there are no black saints when, in fact, there are a lot of Africans who have been canonized as Saints.
Dear friends, in case you are nursing such thoughts, today’s readings should put an end to your fears and confusion. God is not racist. Sure, the nation of Israel even to this day prides itself as the “chosen people” and God took flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary who was a descendant of David but this does not mean that God cares only about people with white skin. The prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading speaks of God receiving foreigners in His holy Mountain, making them joyful in His house of prayer and accepting their sacrifices on His holy altar. That Africans have accepted the Christian faith is for me a direct fulfilment of this ancient prophecy.
Coming to our second reading, St. Paul prides himself as an apostle to the Gentiles saying that the same grace and mercy of God that made the Jewish people chosen by God is now at work to the Gentiles. The fact that Jesus began His ministry in the nation of Israel and He sought first to save the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” does not mean that God is a property of the Jews. It was just the will of God to begin with them. Note that when Jesus first sent out his disciples to preach, he told them: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). Later on, after His resurrection, Jesus changed this instruction saying: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
When Jesus said it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, He was basically speaking in parables; He never intended to insult the woman or to make her feel inferior. Jesus was trying to say: “It is not yet time” just as He told his Mother in His first-ever public miracle, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) While Mary’s insistence would cause Jesus to work His first miracle, the Canaanite woman’s response would cause Jesus to extend his ministry beyond the “lost sheep of Israel.” The woman said: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs and fall from the master’s table.” Jesus was impressed first by the fact that she understood the meaning of His parable and secondly by the fact that she had no iota of doubt in His ability to heal her daughter.
The healing of this woman’s daughter just like the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:2-10) are two occasions Jesus praised the faith of foreigners who sought His help. It personally shows us that God is not a racist, that we Africans are co-heirs of the Divine Promises, that we are not in any way inferior to anyone as long as we believe in God. In fact, as St. Paul would say, this teaches us firmly that “God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6).
Conclusion: Keep Justice; Do Righteousness and You will be accepted.
Christianity in Africa suffered a great blow and even lost its credibility when the emphasis shifted from repentance from sin to prosperity and miracle when we pastors left the preaching of the truth to conscience into the hot pursuit of material things; when we replaced the drive to win souls with the drive to own private jets; when we became friends of the politicians, openly and shamelessly offered to sell God’s blessings to the highest bidder, when we printed awards for the highest givers at harvests and bazaar while the poor holy souls were ignored. A lot of water has gone under the bridge and our excesses have become too much for the people to bear.
Enough of prosperity messages. Enough of miracle displays in our churches. In fact, the greatest miracle is our firm resolve to repent from our sinfulness and shameful lifestyles. Isaiah says, keep justice; do righteousness and you will be accepted. Christianity as a religion is not our problem in Africa. Our problem is our practice of fake Christianity; we fill up churches but we do not live like people who know Jesus. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:35). If we do what is right, like this Canaanite woman, things will be well for us in Africa. God does not discriminate according to race, tribe or colour. It is our actions, our good deeds that would separate the sheep from the goats.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to pray better and to live as your child. Amen
Happy Sunday. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.