Sunday, Aug. 20, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Everyone has experienced it: the terrible moment when God says, “No.”
No, you may not have that job you have been praying for. No, that temptation will not go away. No, your family member will not convert. Sometimes the No is final; sometimes God is saying it will take a while for our petitions to be resolved.
It is easy to simply give up and give in — to stop asking and live like it will never happen.
That is where persistence comes in.
Today’s Gospel tells us: Don’t take “No” for an answer.
“Have pity on me!” the Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus. “My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
First, Jesus ignores her — “Jesus did not say a word in answer to her,” says the Gospel. Then his disciples tell him: “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
So he does. He tells her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Being ignored didn’t make her give up. Hearing this “No” didn’t either.
“The woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”
Then he made his “No” harsher: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
She still won’t take “No” for an answer: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Only then does Jesus say, “O woman, great is your faith!”
We often get exactly these answers from God.
“Why is Jesus ignoring me?” we often wonder, maybe even thinking, “Apparently those granted jobs are more worthy. Why do others get the gift of a family full of faith, but not my family? Why are others not struggling as I am? Is the grace of the basics of a Godly life — work, faith and moral fortitude — not something God will extend to me?”
If the Canaanite woman feels offended, she doesn’t show it. She won’t stop asking. Instead, she adds an act of humility to her petition. She grants the premise that she is less worthy — and would like something small all the same, a “scrap that falls from the table” of those who are more favored.
We can do the same thing — because we are not worthy either.
God is infinitely greater than us and sees that better people than us are enduring far worse suffering and staying way more faithful.
We have not been perfect like the foreigners God answers in the first reading. We Catholics, the “People of God,” have disobeyed him as surely as the “Chosen People” did, as St. Paul points out in the second reading.
Tell God you know all that — and you would like a scrap anyway. Jesus responds to that kind of humility.
Take a tip from salesmen: You never get what you don’t ask for, and you can’t close the deal if you take “No” for an answer too soon.
“Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.” So St. Josémaria Escriva reminds us.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
and author of The Fatima Family Handbook.