August 20, 2023
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Readings for Today
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” Matthew 15:21–22
After Jesus was harshly challenged by the Pharisees, He and His disciples took a 35-mile journey to the northwest to a region that was in pagan territory and outside of the jurisdiction of Herod and the Jewish leaders. It might have been a time of repose for Him and His disciples and an opportunity for Jesus to form the disciples more directly. It was during this retreat that a pagan woman came to ask Jesus for help.
As the story unfolds, we see that her prayer is a model for us all. First, she acknowledges Who Jesus is—the Son of David. This is a manifestation of her faith and a clear contrast to the lack of faith Jesus had experienced with many of the people in Galilee. Second, her request is expressed in straightforward and simple language, “Have pity on me!” And, “Lord, help me.” Third, her prayer is persistent. Jesus allows her to manifest her persistence by first being silent to her request and then telling her “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus obviously does not say this to be rude, but to invite her to manifest her faith in a persistent way. And that she does. Finally, her prayer is one of deep humility. She responds, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” She was begging for the “scraps” of Jesus’ mercy, and she received His mercy in abundance.
Do you desire the scraps of Jesus’ mercy in the way a dog desires the scraps from the table of its owner? Hopefully you do. This is the disposition that we must all have in prayer. Sometimes, out of pride, we can think that we have a right to God’s mercy. We can think that God owes us. And though we might realize that mercy is not deserved, we must allow that truth to sink in deeply. That is why this story is so important. It presents us with the ideal way to pray and the humble interior disposition we must have when approaching God.
Prayerfully sit with the image of a dog begging for scraps from the table. When a dog is given what is left over, it is thrilled. To us, eating the scraps from another’s plate is undesirable. But if the “plate” belongs to the Savior of the World and the “food” is His grace and mercy, then that changes everything. In the end, the Master also invites us to the table and feeds us with the finest of spiritual food. But that doesn’t change the fact that we must always have the humble disposition exemplified by this humble woman.
Reflect, today, upon this holy woman. In the end, Jesus cried out, “O woman, great is your faith!” But that did not come until she wholeheartedly expressed her faith with humility and persistence. With her as a shining example, reflect upon how you pray to God. Do you pray with self-righteousness, as if you deserve God’s mercy? Do you tend to see God as one Who owes you something? Do you get angry with God when He doesn’t immediately answer your demands? Try to humble yourself like this woman. Beg for whatever God wants to give to you. Do so with perseverance and the utmost trust. If you do, our Lord will not only pour forth the scraps of His mercy, He will also pick you up and invite you to the glorious meal of His abundant grace.
Most merciful Jesus, I beg of You that I be given only the scraps from the table of Your mercy. I beg this of You with all my heart. Though I do not deserve You, I seek You anyway. You know what I need, dear Lord; please bestow upon me Your mercy for those needs. Jesus, I trust in You.
Novena to Saint Monica
(Especially prayed for wayward children)
Saint of the Day – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Not celebrated as a liturgical memorial this year since it falls on Sunday