Faith in God, faith in people

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 20 August 2023
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 ><}}}*> Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 ><}}}*> Matthew 15:21-28
Photo by author, 2018.

Weddings are special occasions for me as a priest because they remind me so much of God’s presence in our time. Weddings gladden my heart as a priest because I find faith, hope and love still so vibrant in our own time when people seem to have turned away from God and spiritual values in exchange of material things. Weddings remind me that faith in God is also faith in one another.

Last Sunday we have reflected that outside forces like storms can never determine God’s presence in our lives. He is always present; problem is with us always absent, running away from him. In fact, our gospel this Sunday tells us how Jesus even dares to go to foreign territory just to find us, to heal us, and bring us back home to the Father.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew 15:21-24

Photo by author, Caesarea in northern Israel near Tyre and Sidon in Syria, May 2019.

What a beautiful scene presenting to us God’s love for each of us, of Jesus going into foreign and pagan territory to save us, to share us his good news of salvation. But, are we there to meet Jesus when we are in unusual circumstances in our lives?

Like what we have reflected last Sunday, we need to have that sacred space within us where we could be one with God in Jesus in prayer where we grow deeper in faith, hope and love. There is no doubt with the presence of God in our lives but are we attuned with him?

That day when Jesus withdrew to Tyre and Sidon, there were also many other people who were also sick or with sick family members but, it was only the Canaanite woman who had faith that she recognized Jesus as the Christ by calling him not just “Lord” but also “Son of David.” Though a pagan, she recognized Jesus as the promised Savior of the world, not just of the Jews! Many times in life we are that Canaanite woman, feeling so alone in a foreign territory or unusual situations with nobody to come to for any kind of help or even companionship except God alone. Hence, the need to cultivate a prayer life so we can have that sacred space within us for God, where Jesus comes and dwells.

Photo by author, Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 12 July 2023.

But, there is something else interesting in this scene not just the faith of the Canaanite woman in Christ but also with others. Our faith in God is expressed in our faith with others too. The depth and strength of our faith can be measured with our faith in one another especially those dearest to us.

See the Canaanite woman’s POV or “point of view” and contrast it with the apostles who begged Jesus to entertain her so that she would get out of their way. The apostles wanted to get rid of her because she was making a great commotion. Maybe they felt so ashamed, so jahi to the madlang people!

How sad that we act like the Twelve many times in our lives, with that great disparity between what we believe and what we live. This is the tragedy especially of those serving in the Church with us priests included. Do we believe others as the presence of God? What a tragedy when we categorize people as ones to keep and others to dismiss for whatever reason. Like the apostles, we feel suspicious of those asking Jesus or, us for help. Do they really believe her daughter was sick? Did they believe the Canaanite woman at all?

For us to get a clearer snapshot of the Canaanite woman’s faith and POV, let us return for a while why Jesus ignored her by reminding his disciples that, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Recall that was also his instruction to his apostles after naming them and sent them to their first mission not to go to pagan territories but look for the lost sheep of Israel.

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it away to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Matthew 15:25-28

Photo by author, Katmon Nature Reserve & Beach Resort, Infanta, Quezon, 04 March 2023.

Their conversation about the bread and the dogs reminds us of the wedding feast at Cana when Mary approached Jesus to inform him that the newly-wed couples have ran out of wine. When Jesus told her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:4), we find it echoing here in Tyre and Sidon when he told the Twelve, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Here now is the most beautiful part, the POV of the Canaanite woman who was very much like the Blessed Virgin Mary when she came and did homage to Jesus, begging “Lord, help me.”

I love that part of the Canaanite woman begging Jesus in the name of her daughter. When she finally had the attention of Jesus, she said “Lord, help me”, – not “Lord, help my daughter tormented by a demon”! It was her daughter in need of healing but the woman identified with her just like Mary when she told the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).

What a lovely and amazing scene of faith in God and faith in others! Both Mary believing in Jesus passing on her faith to the servers and the Canaanite woman assuming into her the faith of her sick daughter. It was indeed a tough and deep faith she had professed to Jesus like the servers at the wedding in Cana: it was just a matter of time before something great happens. She felt it coming when she said even the dogs eat the scraps falling from their master’s table.

In life, like that Canaanite woman and the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have to assert even insist our faith while at the same time claiming whatever we believe is ours even if we have to wait. That is why St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading of the need to cultivate and deepen our faith even if God’s gifts and call are permanent and irrevocable (Rom.11:29) because we might fall into the same mistake of his fellow Jews who felt so secured in their beliefs and failed to recognize Jesus as the Christ.

Every Sunday, Jesus calls us to gather for the Eucharist. Everybody is welcomed, especially those feeling lost and alienated, or considered as outsiders because Isaiah prophesied in the first reading today, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is.56:7). Jesus comes to us in his words, in his Body and Blood, in one another especially those nearest to us like our family, your spouse or wife, your children, our siblings, our parents.

It is a Sunday. Let us gather as one family in the house of Lord, to share in his table of the word and of the bread – believing, hoping, and loving. Amen.