August 14: The Canaanite Woman has much to teach us about prayer
We have probably all had that moment in our lives – perhaps several of them – when we wish we could run up to Jesus, back him into a corner and challenge him to answer our request. This 20th Sunday of the year gives us an example of a woman – an anonymous Gentile woman no less, who indeed gets to do just that.
Initially rebuffed by the disciples and then seemingly put off by Jesus, this woman persisted in her plea with Jesus, and she indeed experienced the healing for her daughter that she sought.
Most of us don’t find it so easy to do ourselves, yet we admire this woman’s perseverance and, along with Jesus, recognize the power of her faith.
Clearly we can’t always get what we want from God. If God merely granted all of our wishes – no matter how sincere or selfless they might be – then there would be no place for faith whatsoever. This account is not simply about persistence or the power of faith in prayer.
This woman asks Jesus to free her daughter from the trials of demonic possession – her daughter is afflicted with evil.
We all have our demons. Each of us, if we are honest with ourselves, struggles with those various temptations in our lives. These demons take on many forms and come to us in many ways. Some of these demons are powerful, disrupting the ordinary function of our daily lives. Others demons are more covert, perhaps found only in the fleeting moment of a memory or passing thought. On their own many of these seem almost meaningless and maybe even disconnected. Each of them, as they fester within us, continue to erode our and challenge our faith. Indeed it is often faith itself that is the object of these temptations and doubts.
The reality is that most of us do not think of these mere passing moments of doubt, obsession, painful memory or overt temptation as connected to one another. Yet, left unchecked, they can grow, intertwine, and lead us to begin to spin out of control.
We all are unfortunately too familiar with accounts of good people whose lives spin out of control, bringing them down and leading them to destroyed reputations, with much pain and confusion in its wake. It is a plot that plays itself out daily within our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches and society at large.
This woman recognizes the struggle that her daughter has with the demons in her life. We are lead to presume that she is literally possessed with the evil spirits, and so she may well have been. Most of us do not know people who are actually suffering from demonic possession, but we all are tempted by evil at almost every turn of our conscious lives.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray Jesus gave them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The very last petition of that prayer is very direct – “deliver us from evil.”
This Gentile woman, stands as an example in faith of doing just that. Her plea to Jesus is that her daughter might be delivered from evil. This is a request she makes, not just once, but with carefully planned persistence. She did not allow the initial rebuffs to dissuade her. Rather she was steadfast in faith and Jesus granted to her this liberation.
We are called to that same persistence of faith in our relationship with Jesus. If we refocused our prayer from specific wants and desires for ourselves and others – regardless how noble they might sound – and instead focused our thoughts and prayers that we, and those for whom we pray, might be delivered from the demons that afflict us and them, we would then see a true change of heart and mind, bringing true healing and liberation in the world.
Dr. Garry Koch is a seminarian for the Diocese of Trenton.
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