Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Again Jesus withdraws into retreat, away from Galilee and the area around Capernaum. He heads—along with his disciples–for the Mediterranean coast, walking some forty miles to the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Sidon in the Province of Syria. As you read the narrative, enter into the gospel story. Allow this time apart to be an oasis of retreat for you. Maybe you can arrange for a few hours of prayerful solitude, or possibly a day apart.
As you cross the threshold into this time apart, you may discover that entering into retreat can have its own challenges. Rather than being a restful space for a quietening within your soul, you may feel bombarded by all kinds of thoughts: work that is unfinished, problems that are unsolved, challenges which pull on your attention. Jesus and the disciples discover that they are also followed: a woman from that area begins walking behind them, shouting: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
What torments follow you as you enter into solitude? What cries out for attention?
At first Jesus does not respond, but the woman continues to shout. Finally the disciples urge Jesus to send her away. In their thinking, then the shouting will cease, and they will have the peace and quiet they are seeking. We too tend to think that if we could just “get rid of the noise” then we could sink more deeply into the solace of time apart. Jesus does not respond to the disciples’ urging however, but instead turns and listens to this Canaanite woman who is seeking relief for her daughter.
At first glance it would seem that Jesus is hostile, and tries to deter this anxious mother in her quest. She is a woman after all, following a group of men and yelling her need, in public. This could be seen as a nuisance, but Jesus sees differently. He looks within. Jesus knows the deeper need of this woman, and as a servant of her anxious and troubled soul, he moves to evoke the faith and respect which reside within her.
At first he challenges her by saying that he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Seeing that he has stopped to speak directly to her, this mother now comes and kneels before him, praying, “Lord, help me.” There is something deeper that she needs than the healing of her daughter, and Jesus discerns that need. In response to her plea he again challenges her, using a local and common saying: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (I sometimes wonder if Jesus is saying publicly what the disciples are thinking!) But this challenge he speaks evokes voice and counter- challenge within this persistent woman: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She is meeting this Jesus on his own terms. Her quick and incisive response also signals her faith and dignity, and Jesus is delighted! “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.
We may not be accustomed to this kind of conversation with God as we come to prayer distraught and with great need—for ourselves or for another. In this narrative we discover that Jesus does stop and turn. He hears our cry and enters into conversation with us—with the intent of evoking voice and trust in us. So when our times of prayer and solitude are invaded, in what way do we speak, complain, yell, insist that God hear us? What body language “speaks” our prayer, our deepest need? How persistent and honest do we become in the presence of God?
What do you need to cry out to Jesus about?
Bring your own needs, anxieties, problems to Jesus, as you find yourself in his presence in this gospel narrative. Notice how he listens and responds to you, enters into conversation with you.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
- 8/8 Monday: Matthew 15:21-25
- 8/9 Tuesday: Matthew 15:26-28
- 8/10 Wednesday: Psalm 133
- 8/11 Thursday: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
- 8/12 Friday: Genesis 45:1-15
- 8/13 Saturday: Matthew 15;21-25
- 8/14 Sunday: Matthew 15:16-28