August 20, 2023 — 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The suffering of a child symbolizes uniquely terrible evil as well as despair about the future. This week’s Gospel gives a “limit” case in which Jesus encounters this evil in the form of a mother with a suffering daughter. What he does is stunning and massively helpful for us if we bravely ponder the details.
The Canaanite woman comes to Jesus and begs his mercy. “My daughter is tormented by a demon,” she declares to him. Shockingly, he responds first with silence, then with a dismissive comment, and only then finally accedes to her third request. Is this simply a lesson in perseverance in our petitions to God, who is like a genie in a bottle? Does that justify the humiliation and pain this woman suffers? Is the Lord cruel?
I don’t think so. Notice how the encounter ends. She compares herself to a dog at the table of a master. Jesus responds by praising her great faith and fulfills her deep desire. Somehow this non-Israelite woman intuits that this harrowing situation is not dumb suffering. She senses that the door of God’s family is, in Jesus, being opened to her and her loved ones. She trusts she is at the Lord’s table, and her desires will be fulfilled and that all her sufferings — and her daughter’s, too — will lead a great banquet. In our sufferings this week, the Lord wants us to treat him less like a genie in a bottle and more like the Master who has taken us — lost little dogs that we are — into his home forever. Trust that and keep praying in the face of evil.
— Father John Muir ©LPi