YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: THE POWER OF RADICAL PRAYER
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Is 56 : 1 – 7, Rom 11 : 13 – 32, Matt 15 : 21 – 28.
The quality of our faith; its depth of conviction and its resilience in moments of trial lend credence to our prayer life. Faith, even though it is a grace, is not a matter of how far you have studied, or how near you have dined with the Master. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing in last Sunday’s gospel a scenario where “little faith” was ascribed to a Jewish apostle (Peter) who could not sustain his faith, at Jesus’ behest to walk upon the sea and in today’s gospel, “great faith” was ascribed to a Gentile woman who sustained her faith amidst what looked like a rebuff/ rejection.
B. UNIVERSALITY OF SALVATION
What does the Bible and the Church teach about salvation? The wrong interpretation of Matt 16 : 16 -18 is to think that all non Christians or even non Catholics will go to hell, but today’s 1st reading tells us that the ‘foreigners’ will join themselves to the Lord. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. St Paul calls himself in today’s 2nd reading ‘an apostle to the Gentiles’. We would like to handle today as posited in today’s gospel, one of the problems found in ministering to the Gentiles ; the problem of evil foundations, evil family roots or what I call ‘dog – background’. Her situation /prayer point was a result of idolatry – her daughter was severely possessed by a demon – it may be ancestral spirits, witchcraft spirits, ‘ogbanje’ or other forms of demonic obsession.
She had the courage (faith) to approach God inspite of her negative environmental condition. It was rare for a woman to address a Jewish Rabbi publicly, let alone a Gentile woman. But she had problems. Problems should lead us towards God, not away from Him and delay in answering our prayer doesn’t mean denial.
C. NEED FOR RADICAL PRAYER
Taking a case study of the prayer of the Canaanite woman, the 1st thing that strikes me is her ‘spiritual stubbornness’ – she had a resilient faith like Jacob.
Prayer as petition has 3 dimensions. Christ said : ASK, SEEK AND KNOCK. These 3 dimensions contain the elements of what people like Fr Stephen Njoku, of blessed memory has called ‘radical prayer’. It is not a matter of asking for anything you like, it must be asking for what God likes. It is not a matter of seeking in ignorance, prayer must be informed by correct knowledge. It is not a matter of shouting and riggling in prayer but making our petitions penetrate the heart of God. According to Vima Dasan, ‘It is not the arithmetic of our prayer – how many ; It is not the rhetoric of our prayer – how eloquent ; It is not the geometry of our prayer – how long ; It is not the music of our prayer – how sweet which God cares for. Faith is what counts in prayer’. What was necessary in the prayer of the Canaanite woman of today’s gospel is her faith and trust in Jesus ; other qualities like humility, cheerfulness and perseverance also helped a lot.
There were 3 reactions from Jesus ; SILENCE, REBUFF AND SMILE. It was a case of spiritual midwifery. Both the silence /delay and what looked like a rebuff were all mearnt to bring out her faith more clearly. She turned the ‘insult’ down with a flush of humour and got what she prayed for at the end. Biblical scholars describe this as the ‘miracle with a smile’ – yes she must have seen the smile even behind Jesus’ delay and disdainful remarks.
Although some people may seem to pray from a farer distance from God than others, the variable of faith can make a lot of difference. God is not partial – whether you are praying from a ‘Canaanite’ background or a ‘Christian’ background, Jesus can only delay but always smiles at every child of God.
We do not need to organize special ministry of ‘healing of family roots’ or ‘evil environmental foundations’ after baptism but we need to do whatever can step up the faith quotient of the believers and make their repentance and prayer more deep and radical especially when they have collectively placed themselves in a spiritually disadvantaged position.
We also do not need to settle for “crumbs falling from the Master’s table”. That’s for dogs! Jesus’ death on the Cross has promoted us and made us children of the Master. Let’s therefore “dine with the Master” according to Fr Franklin Onubuleze. We separate ourselves from His table when we go back to sin. Let’s never lose faith even when there is a delay in God’s answer to our prayers.
Happy Sunday dear friends!