Gospel Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Persistent Faith (from my book ‘A Shepherd’s Voice’, 2007)

The story of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter tormented by an unclean spirit strikes us for three reasons. First, in a male-dominated Jewish culture, we witness a woman who had the guts to approach Jesus at close range to plead for something. It would have been more acceptable if she had used a male intermediary to go to the Lord and ask for help. Second, the woman was a foreigner and her plea could not easily be addressed knowing the exclusive Jewish mission of Jesus. One notes why Jesus did not immediately speak and when He did, He said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) Third, she was persistent in asking for whatever Jesus could offer to heal her daughter; even a small scrap of miracle would do. With these three reasons, we understand why Jesus was awed by the woman‘s faith

Like the woman in the gospel, we are called to live out our faith with persistence. Experience tells us that when we are in crisis situations or when we are in dire need of something, we are led to pray to God for His assistance. But there are moments when there are things we pray for that are not immediately answered. Sometimes, our unanswered prayers discourage us to trust in God‘s providence. Instead of praying more, we even feel bad that God does not heed our urgent petitions. We no longer persist in pleading for God‘s help. There are some who even lose their faith in God.

Many years ago, I watched a film entitled Lorenzo’s Oil. The movie tells the true story of Lorenzo Odone, a child whose normal and happy life was disrupted by a dreaded disease called adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). The disease is due to the removal of white lipid sheaths that surround long thin cells called neurons, disabling one‘s capacity for muscle control. As the disease progressed, Lorenzo experienced dementia, loss of sight, speech and the ability to walk, which was diagnosed to lead to inevitable death in a couple of years. However, the parents of Lorenzo, Augusto Odone, played by Nick Nolte and Michaela Odone, played by Susan Sarandon, never lost hope. They became involved in a fight to save the life of their son. Most of the people around them, especially the doctors, advised them to accept the incurable illness of their son. However, Augusto and Michaela trained themselves in biology to develop a treatment for their son. As the years passed, they were able to discover bits and pieces of medical cure that improved the physical health of Lorenzo. They were even able to convince and motivate some doctors and scientific researchers in the medical field to pursue a cure for ALD. What struck me in the movie was the persistence of Lorenzo‘s parents to save their dying son. When everyone was convincing them to let go and accept that their son would die, they never gave up. Their persistence bore fruit.

How I wish we could apply this attitude and disposition of Lorenzo‘s parents to our faith in God. If the human spirit can persevere in finding solutions to life‘s seemingly unsolvable problems, what more the divine spirit within us that should trust in God who cares for us and responds to our every need according to His holy will. Let us be persistent in faith.

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