Reflections for Sunday, August 17, 2014

Meditation and Questions for Reflection or Group Discussion
(Isaiah 56:1,6-7; Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8; Romans 11:13-15,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28)

The Power of Persistent Prayer

Woman, great is your faith! (Matthew 15:28)

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a vivid illustration of Jesus’ teaching that we need to ask, seek, and knock. Only this is not a parable or a sermon. It’s a real life story!

A Canaanite woman, a Gentile, begs Jesus to deliver her daughter from a demon. It’s something that Jesus experienced all the time. People were always coming to him, asking him for a healing of some sort or other.
But instead of answering her request right away, Jesus does something surprising. He replies in what appears to be a very rude way. At first, he ignores her. Then he tells her that his mission doesn’t include Gentiles. Then he refers to her and her entire people as “dogs.” And to make matters worse, the apostles do nothing but try to get rid of her!

Yet at each step, the mother remains undeterred. She persists until Jesus finally says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28).

Why was Jesus so rude to the woman? Maybe he was testing her faith. Maybe he was testing the apostles’ faith. Maybe he wanted to make sure everyone knew how much he treasured persistent, even stubborn, belief in him. That’s what this woman showed, isn’t it? She, an outsider, a pagan, believed in Jesus, and she was not to be ignored, sidelined, or denied. She persisted—and so should we!

Jesus wants to test our faith at times, just as he did for this woman and his disciples. He wants to provoke us to deeper faith by challenging us to trust him even when we think he is ignoring us or rejecting our request. Just as Jesus pushed this woman, so he pushes us sometimes.

So what’s the message today? Yes, the tests of life can be frustrating and aggravating. Yes, Jesus can seem rude or distant at times. But never give up, because no matter how it seems, he has not given up on you!

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

(Many thanks to The Word Among Us (www.wau.org) for allowing us to use meditations from their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission. The Word Among Us Mass Edition contains all the Mass readings and prayers, and a meditation for each of the daily and Sunday Masses.)

Questions for Reflection/Discussion

  1. In the first reading, Isaiah says, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice about to be revealed.” What do you think this means? How does this apply to how you live out your Christian life?
  2. Isaiah also speaks of the all-inclusiveness of God’s love; all peoples are welcome in God’s house: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Are there any people that you believe are excluded from your love or God’s love? Why? Take some time now to pray for these people, especially for their conversion to Christ, for their transformation into his image and likeness, and for their salvation.
  3. In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist prays for God’s mercy and blessing, not just for himself so that God’s “way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.” Do you believe there are nations today that are beyond God’s blessing and salvation? Why? Take some time now to pray for specific nations that need God’s blessing and the knowledge of his wonderful salvation in Jesus Christ.
  4. The second reading ends with these words of St. Paul regarding God’s mercy toward the Jewish people and Christians: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” What do you think these words mean? How do they apply to you?
  5. St. Paul also prays for God’s mercy on his fellow Jewish countrymen and for their conversion. Are their any Jewish persons you know that need to come to know God’s great love for them? Why not join your prayers with Paul’s and pray for the conversion of the Jewish people, and any specific Jewish persons you know.
  6. In the Gospel reading, why do you think Jesus praises the great faith of the Canaanite woman? Her faith can certainly be seen in her perseverance in asking Jesus to heal her daughter, in spite of the initial lack of response. Are there situations that you are struggling to persevere in prayer, because the prayers don’t seem to be answered? How have these areas affected your prayer life and your faith in Christ?
  7. The meditation also speaks of how difficult the Gospel reading is, especially in trying to understand Jesus’ ignoring of the Canaanite woman’s initial plea for help and his first response to her plea. The meditation, in trying to understand the heart of God from these Scriptures, says that “Jesus wants to test our faith at times, just as he did for this woman and his disciples. He wants to provoke us to deeper faith by challenging us to trust him even when we think he is ignoring us or rejecting our request. Just as Jesus pushed this woman, so he pushes us sometimes.” Do you agree with these words from the meditation? How can reflecting on difficult Scriptures, like this Gospel reading, help us understand more and more God’s desire to help us grow in our faith in him and our trust in his great love for us?
  8. Take some time now to ask the Lord for the gift of perseverance and expectant faith when you pray. Use the prayer at the end of the mediation as the starting point.

These reflection questions are provided courtesy of The Word Among Us.