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Recently I came upon an old clip of the British Got Talent on Youtube. A 12-old boy came out on the stage, with his single-mother looking on from the backstage with excitement. The boy faced three judges with an immense crowd behind them. When the boy began to sing a very upbeat song, the crowd began to cheer. Two of the three judges were quite impressed; but the last judge, Simon Cowell was not pleased at all. He waved at the boy to stop singing and said, “You got this all wrong.” The crowd and the two judges were dismayed. The boy was startled, too. Simon was well known for his blunt and often controversial criticisms, insults and wisecracks about contestants and their abilities. The audience was bracing for the worst. Then Simon asked, “What do you sing apart from that?” The boy said he could sing a Michael Jackson’s song. When the boy began to sing, the crowd went wild. Simon eased back into his chair, as if he knew this boy’s extraordinary talent all along.
There are various ways to draw out the best in people. One of the ways is through challenge. It’s not pleasant at the time when you are challenged, but it is a necessary way to grow. Martin Luther King spoke about this insight when he said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Perhaps this insight is a window into Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in a Gentile region. Even there, Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist had apparently preceded him, for a local mother whose daughter was afflicted by a demon identified him and pressed him to intervene. At first, Jesus gave no answer to her pleas, and the disciples grew annoyed that she kept calling out for his help. When he finally responded, he explained his reason for not getting involved: his ministry was directed not to the Gentiles but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then the mother renews her request with the words, “Lord, help me.” Accepting his lordship, she is confident that Jesus wields the divine power necessary to release her little girl from demonic oppression. Still, Jesus declines. It is inappropriate, he says, to toss the food of the children to dogs.
One religious sister had a difficult time with this passage. She reflected, “I have never heard Jesus speak this way. He was so compassionate with Mary Magdalene, with Matthew, with Zacchaeus. This woman seems to be a good woman who is not asking for herself, but interceding for another.” The sister went to prayer to ask Jesus to help her understand. She asked Jesus, “Is there a lesson for me in this strange conduct of Yours, in this seeming lack of compassion?” In prayer Jesus replied, “Yes, I knew this woman’s heart. Her deep faith and her compassion. But I wanted others to see it. I wanted her to be an example to all mankind of deep humility and perseverance. Even the rebuff she accepted in love. Even when she did not understand she kept asking and loving. Her faith increased each time I said no.”
Were there times when you were frustrated or angry when you received no answer from God for requests for yourself or others? After a while, did you remain frustrated, angry, or did your perseverance helped you grow? The same can happen to us in our daily dealings with other people. Did you ever feel ‘put off’ or ignored by others? The Canaanite woman was called by God to give an example of perseverance in time of challenge and an example of deep faith when faith can be shaken. Jesus praised the Canaanite woman for her faith and for her love. She made the misery of her child her own and was willing to suffer rebuff in order to obtain healing for her loved one. Her faith grew in contact with Jesus. She began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God.
When we are facing a challenge, do we go to Jesus with expectant faith, perseverance, and humility? Or, do we go to Him expecting Him to do exactly what we want? Our posture to the answer ‘no’ from Our Lord affects whether we will have peace or turmoil in our soul. We will come to know that God permits challenges in our lives to draw out from our soul those hidden qualities that are unknown, even to us.