Read Isaiah 56:1,6-7, Ps. 67:2-3,5-6,8, Romans 11:13-15,29-32, Matthew 15:21-28

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28)

Last Sunday, Jesus came to his disciples at the fourth watch of the night, walking on water. They thought they saw a ghost, but Jesus said: “Take heart, it is I. Have no fear.” To confirm it, Peter asked that he might walk on water, but he soon began to sink when he took his gaze away from Jesus. Jesus said to Peter: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31-32).

Meanwhile, in today’s gospel passage, Jesus said to the Canaanite woman: “Woman, great is your faith!” Do we say that what a man cannot do, a woman can do better? Nevertheless, let us remember that, unlike Peter, this woman had something at stake – her daughter, tormented by a demon. In The Canaanite Woman, we learn what it means to be a mother. Like St. Monica, who prayed relentlessly for her son, Augustine, this woman shows us that being a mother is loving sacrificially. It is refusing to give up on your children regardless of how they turn out to be.

Like this Canaanite woman, we have been victims of tough times at some point. We may be going through very difficult circumstances right now. Today, we learn that tough times do not last, but tough people do. What does it mean to be a tough person? Selflessness – living not merely for oneself but for others. Living above Prejudice - refusing to judge others based on their origins. Positivity - refusing to take ‘No’ for an answer. Humility – accepting and taking advantage of whatever insults we receive. Let us not examine some lessons in today’s readings.

1. Why Does God Allow Tough Times in Our Lives?

Some Christians have asked, “If God is all good, all kind, all loving, why does he allow his children to go through difficult moments?” To take our minds to last Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus knew what awaited the disciples at sea, but he sent them on ahead of him. Why? He wanted to test the extent of their faith. We can only say we have faith if we are tested. Without tough times, we cannot claim to be people of faith. Secondly, Jesus wanted to teach them. We learn more from adversity than from leisure. As the saying goes: “Once beaten, twice shy.”

There is a quotation by Hazrat Inayat Khan which goes thus: “I asked for strength, and God gave me difficulties to toughen me. I asked for wisdom, and God gave me problems to learn to solve. I asked for prosperity, and God gave me a brain and brawn to work. I asked for courage, and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for love, and God gave me people to help. I asked for favours, and God gave me opportunities. I received nothing I wanted. I received everything I needed.”

2. In Tough times, Keep Pushing; Pray Until Something Happens

Once, Jesus gave us a parable of a woman demanding justice from an unjust judge. Like the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel passage, this woman never gave up. Jesus concluded: “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).

This means that God would reward our faith if we persevere in asking, but this asking must be done with faith, not bitterness. It is one thing to pray repeatedly but a different thing to display anger towards God for delaying our requests. The Canaanite woman was not ready to take No for an answer, but she was not bitter. This woman played along even when Jesus said something that could be interpreted as insulting.

How do we avoid bitterness when our prayer requests are delayed? St. Paul says: “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). Pray without ceasing. God has no favourites. God is the father of all. You are not suffering because your sins are greater than those of others. God allows His rain to fall on the good and bad alike. Isaiah says, “God’s house is a place of prayer for all nations.”

3. Qualities of Tough People - Selflessness

The most outstanding quality of tough people is that they do not live only for themselves. Selfish people are weak. Since they are only concerned about themselves, they live in a small world (‘I’, ‘Me’ and ‘myself’). Since their world is so small, they only see negatives rather than positives. They have weak faith because they don’t believe they can help others. When they see people in trouble, they play the ostrich -hide their heads in the sand, hoping the trouble never gets to them.

The Canaanite woman had a large heart. Instead of abandoning her daughter in her condition, she searched for a solution. Tough people can survive tough times because they are always trying to help others; they are always looking for solutions to other people’s problems, and by so doing, they always discover new ideas, new opportunities and ways to improve their lives. Isaiah tells us in today’s first reading: “Keep justice and do righteousness” Don’t be selective of your goodness.

4. Qualities of Tough People – No Prejudice

One evil that has kept our society from making progress is ethnic bigotry. Many people believe that if someone is not from their tribe or community, they are good for nothing. Tough people are more concerned about a person’s potential than their history. The Canaanite woman did not consider that her people were enemies of the Jews. Recall the statement of the Samaritan woman to Jesus when He asked her for water: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9).

Matthew tells us, “Jesus went away and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” This means that Jesus went there to hide because he wanted to rest. He was not expecting people to recognise Him. Meanwhile, the Canaanite woman was more concerned about receiving healing for her daughter than maintaining an age-old communal clash.

Child of God, be wise – do not cheat yourself by refusing to ask for help from someone just because the person is an enemy of your friend. Treat people according to who they are, not what you have heard about them. Tough people are willing to walk into the so-called enemy zone because they know what they want.

5. Qualities of Tough People – Positivity

Tough people do not take ‘no’ for an answer. They understand that failure is not a bus stop but a bridge to success. Tough people are like salespeople; they are always optimistic. No matter how many times you slam the door on their faces, be sure to find them knocking again with a smile on their faces. They are like Jacob – they would never let you go unless you bless them. When you tell them you don’t want to patronise them, they keep the conversation going until you finally agree to their terms.

The Canaanite woman persisted because she prepared herself ahead for possible rejection. It was like she was expecting Jesus’ reaction, and her plan was simple: “I will never give up.” When Jesus did not answer her a word, she smiled and kept asking. When the disciples asked Jesus to send her away, she smiled again but did not stop asking. When Jesus said he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, she still smiled but never gave up. When Jesus said children’s bread should not go to dogs, she smiled again and asked for the crumbs. Tough people always look at the brighter side, knowing their situation is never beyond remedy.

6. Qualities of Tough People – Humility

Tough people know how to swallow insults. They have such tough skin that they can make jokes even about themselves. Tough people recognise their “nothingness”, but instead of feeling inferior, they ask for help. Weak people are too ashamed to ask for help; their pride keeps them down forever. How can a man who lacks a secondary school education employ (and control) professors who have attained the highest possible level in their chosen fields? The answer is humility.

No wonder, in her song of thanksgiving, Mary tells us that God exults the lowly and puts down the proud. Show me a man who knows how to remain calm when humiliated, and I will show you a man whose heart is as tough as steel. Others may laugh at him, but he knows exactly what he is doing. When they realise what he planned, he will laugh at them.

Conclusion: Faith is Not Magic

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.” (Matthew 7:7-8) but He never gave us any time frame. Be Patient with God.

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, fill us with the warmth of your love so that by loving you in all things, we may attain your promises. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Isaiah 56:1,6-7, Ps. 67:2-3,5-6,8, Romans 11:13-15,29-32, Matthew 15:21-28).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu