Minsan merong isang bibe na pumasok sa tindahan ng mga feeds. Nagtanong sya sa tindero: “May tinda ba kayong pagkain ng mga bibe?” Sumagot ang tindero: “Wala kaming feeds para sa mga bibe.” “Okay”, sabi ng bibe. The next day, pumunta uli ang bibe dun sa tindahan at muling nagtanong: “May tinda ba kayong pagkain para sa mga bibe?” “Wala po”, sagot ng tindero. “Okay”, sabi ng bibe. Nang sumunod na araw, balik uli ang bibe sa tindahan at pareho pa rin ang tanong nya: “May tinda ba kayong pagkain para sa mga bibe?” Nagalit na ang tindero: “Sinabi nang wala! Hindi kami nagtinda, di kami nagtitinda, at di kami magtitinda ng feeds para sa mga bibe! Sa susunod na magtatanong ka uli, ipapako ko na yang malalapad mong mga paa dito sa sahig!” “Okay”, sabi uli nga bibe. The next day, andyan na naman ang bibe, pero iba ang tanong nya: “Meron ba kayong pako?” “Wala po”, sagot ng tindero. “Kung ganun”, ang sabi ng bibe, “May tinda ba kayong pagkain para sa mga bibe?”
That is what we may call persistence. But there are two kinds of persistence. The first one is the persistence that is meant to annoy, to make fun of, at the expense of another. Ito ang tinatawag nating ‘makulit’. The other kind of persistence is not based on the intention to annoy or to make fun of somebody, but to desperately achieve something because of a great need. This is the kind of persistence that the Canaanite woman had when she approached Jesus with a request. This woman had a strong character. In fact, she was a stranger, a foreigner. She had no business mingling with Israelites, much less sharing in the blessings intended by God for his Chosen People, Israel. This seems to have been the reason why when she approached Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a demon”, Jesus was completely silent. He was quiet and did not show any reaction.
Some people, when met with a seeming indifference and are ignored, would easily give up. But this Canaanite woman was different. Motivated by her love for her daughter, she continued to follow Jesus and must have persistently communicated her request, prompting the Apostles to tell Jesus to give in to her, so that they could get her out of their way. But Jesus replied: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Jesus’ response was more direct, and more hurting. It was as if he was telling the woman “You are not an Israelite and you have no right to partake of the blessings meant only for the people of Israel.” But the woman was adamant. She prostrated herself and begged Jesus, “Lord, help me”. Jesus’ response became even more hurting even bordering on insult. He said, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs!” Jesus likened the Canaanite woman to a dog. That could have been the last straw, to drive the woman away and get rid of her. But the woman spontaneously responded: “please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.”
It was Jesus who gave up. The woman’s persistence was rooted not only in her great love for her daughter but also in her deep faith in God’s tenderness and mercy for all people. So Jesus told her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you wish.” And at that moment, the woman’s daughter was healed.
My dear brothers and sisters, our readings today impart to us, at least, two lessons. The first lesson: in the eyes of God, nobody should be considered a stranger, a foreigner, an outsider. In God’s Kingdom, nobody is excluded unless he excludes himself. Everybody is equal in the eyes of God. Salvation is meant for all people, in fact, for the whole of creation. This universal salvation is also expressed in the First Reading through the prophet Isaiah: The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord. . .and hold on to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer. . .for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
Jesus, in the gospel, gave the impression that he was excluding the Canaanite woman. But his real intent was to bring the woman to the right motivation, a deep faith that God is solicitous for the needs of all people. We should have that kind of faith. Even when God seems to be silent, even when he seems unmindful of our great needs. God has room for us all in his eternal memory. If God does not grant our requests at the time we want it, it is because God is not an automatic dispensing machine from whom we can draw anything in one push of our finger. God’s wisdom has the proper time, and an appropriate blessing for each one of us.
In our own time, it is not only people from other nations that are considered strangers. Within our very own country, there are people who are deemed outsiders, people who are excluded. We neglect, or conveniently forget to share with them the blessings of our society. We are lucky if we are born with a silver spoon on our mouths as offsprings of “de buena familia” or we are able to rise up the social and economic ladder. Then we can live in posh villages, ride in luxury cars, wear expensive attire, and wallow in sumptuous feasts and expensive vacations. But what about those who live in the ‘kariton’, those children who knock on our car windows and wipe our squeaky clean cars with their dirty rags? They have no houses, they may have four wheels, but they have no cars, no work, and many times, no food. Shall we give them a few coins, or candies or cookies and then feel good about our charitable deed? Are they dogs that can rest content with the scraps that fall from our tables? Or can we do something more ‘saving’, more life-changing? Can we, for example, pool our resources together, let’s say five of us who are friends, and send one poor child to College? Or give a substantial capital for a poor family to start a business, of course, with our guidance? The real bottom line for us who are better off is: In our mind, in our heart, do we feel that those people have no right to the blessings of life? Do they deserve to be excluded? Are we in the same wavelength as God?
The second lesson is as follows. For those who are needy because they have to knock on car windows, or because they feel helpless amidst a challenge like a terminal illness, sudden loss of job, or heavy irreversible losses in business, or a marriage falling apart – sometimes our pleas for help can fall on deaf ears, or we can be outrightly refused, we do not have to worry and give up. We should not think that God is unmindful of us, or that God chooses the persons to whom he gives the blessings. We just have to be persistent, to continue to strive, and to continue to knock on the hearts of our fellow human beings. There are many people of good will who are in the same wavelength as God. And, of course, we must never stop praying. Our challenges, our greatest needs, are opportunities for us to develop our deep faith in God’s love, in God’s mercy and wisdom. Someday, God will grant to us the deepest longings of our hearts.
Homily for the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, August 20, 2017
By Br. Virgilio A. Ojoy, OP