Outsiders & Insiders
August 5, 2020
Experiencing the Mountain Top
August 6, 2020

Homily for Wednesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major, 05 August 2020, Mt 15: 21-28

This Gospel healing story reminds me of another story by Fr. Anthony De Mello, SJ. The story is set in one of the big cities of India. It is about a woman with a child in her arm, who stopped by a bakeshop and started tapping at the glass window in order to call attention and beg for food. Just at that time, the bakeshop owner himself happened to be fixing up the newly-baked loaves of bread early in the morning.
The man turned his eyes to the beggar and motioned with his hand to indicate that beggars were not allowed to loiter in front of his shop. The woman used her hand to do a sign language knowing she could not be heard from outside by the shop-keeper. She pointed at her little child and then pursed her five fingers to point at her mouth, to say, “Please sir, a little food for my little one…” But she got the same hand-sign from the man who was now waving his hand away, to say, “Get away from here!” Then the man proceeded with his task and this time, loaded more delectable pastries on the show window’s racks.
To the baker’s surprise, the woman was still there. When their eyes met, the woman did the same gesture again. And he repeated his earlier gesture, but this time accompanied by a angry face, to convey a more emphatic message, “Get off, right now!” But she just continued to stand there under a sweltering heat of the sun.
Now totally annoyed at this hard-headed woman, the baker opened the glass swing door and yelled at her. She continued to plead like a stubborn dog that refused to leave empty-handed. So mad was the bakeshop owner, he spat right smack at her face and said “You’re so hard headed; that’s what you deserve!” The man then slammed the door and went back in. But the woman did not budge.
A few moments later, the man started to feel guilty about the way he had treated the beggar. After taking a few deep breaths, he regained his composure. He looked outside, and, sure enough, she was still there, standing patiently with the child in her arm. He went out and forced himself to calm down as he said, “Lady, you are so stubborn; what can I do to make you leave? I’m upset because you’re blocking my clients.”
The woman raised her eyes with no trace of anger at all for the insult she had received. She said, “You already gave me what I deserved, sir. But can I please have a little piece of bread for my hungry child?” The request shook the bakeshop owner who, instead of yelling again, he went back inside the shop, took a little paper bag and filled it with soft buns. He stepped out of his shop and said, “I am sorry for what I did to you a while ago. Here are some fresh buns for you and your child.” And the woman said, “Thank you, sir. May God reward you for your kindness.”
You see why today’s Gospel reminded me of that story? The Canaanite woman also got what she wanted through persistence. But honestly, I am a bit puzzled about what Jesus said to her. He said,”Woman, how great is your FAITH!” What faith was he talking about? The woman was introduced as a Canaanite woman—meaning she was a pagan or a non-Israelite. In short, she was not their fellow believer in Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Perhaps what Jesus really meant was “How great is your LOVE!” It was her love for her daughter that made her persistent.
She eventually got what she asked for because she did not claim it as a right, in the first place. She was willing to wait, wait until all the children of the master had been fed. She didn’t mind waiting even if she’d end up with nothing but crumbs or scraps of leftover. Ironically, it is precisely this self-deprecating attitude that paves the way for the grace that she prayed for.
Two virtues are emphasized by the Gospel:
1) Persistence:
She doesn’t give up easily, even after several instances of rejection: once by the disciples, and twice by Jesus himself. She wasn’t asking for herself; she was pleading for her daughter. There is another story about a persistent widow who did not stop pestering an unjust judge until she was able to get justice. You see, if you want to achieve something you have to will it first.
2) Humility: Sense of grace vs. a sense of entitlement
She wasn’t insisting on something she was entitled to. She was well aware of the fact that she was a foreigner, that she was a non-Israelite, that she did not worship the same God.
What Jesus said to the Canaanite woman was actually very insulting: “It is not right to take food from the Master’s table and throw it to the dogs.” And yet, she took no offense at it. It was her love for her daughter that could make her swallow the insult. And this deeply moved Jesus and made him say, “Woman, how great is your faith.”
This story also reminds me of the Novena Church in Singapore, where many non-Christians—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims attend Mass, seeking favors from God through the Blessed Mother, who is so well-known in Singapore as a powerful intercessor, even the non-Christians turn to her when they are desperate. Later they become regular Mass-goers and some of them even ask voluntarily to be baptized. I don’t know how true, but they say Our Lady of Perpetual Help has become the most effective evangelizer in Singapore.
On this day that we celebrate the oldest Church dedicated to the honor of the Mother of Jesus, I would find it understandable why many of us run to the Blessed Mother especially during these very uncertain times. I think it is through John’s story of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11) that we have developed the image of Mary as somewhat like the persistent Canaanite woman in our Gospel today, whose ardent request the Lord could not possibly turn down.


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