Today’s gospel is echoing the stories of many undocumented immigrants in the US. In fact, a friend shared with me his story that explains how he got his American citizenship. He crossed the border many times illegally and was deported three times. But now he owns his company in the States and has many employees. In his work, he found another call that is to help the homeless and poor, which he does monthly. All that he is and does for other people now come from his persistence and endurance. His story therefore can be identified with that of the woman whose story we have heard in the gospel. The woman kept begging until Jesus talked to her. Likewise, three times, my friend was denied the right to benefit and eat from the food as the average American does have. With faith, he has finally made the US his home. Feeling unwelcomed, he persisted till he made this hostile place, something he can now call home. This story is not only applied to my friend and all undocumented immigrants, but it is also to every one of us. At a certain point in life, we begged for relationships. At a time, we begged for help from people who are not our family members.
In the gospel, Jesus does not say a word to the woman at first; he even refuses to send her away. And this refusal to send her leads to say that he was expecting her to persist and express her deep faith. Only after her persistence does he converse with her. Jesus’ response to her second cry for help includes a reiteration of his mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He even likens her status as a Gentile to the status of dogs who long to be fed from the table. The woman, however, is not deterred from her goal. She claims a place in the household, but it is not a position of privilege or even the position of an insider. She accepts the status of a family’s dog by claiming that even the dog enjoys crumbs from the table. But then, if I were this woman, I would probably have given up. I would have even gotten angry. She asked a favor, and yet she was insulted. Hence, her statement is striking and is also an outstanding witness of faith. Her faith in Jesus allowed her to put her hope in what many of us could have discarded. Her faith helped her to appreciate how much grace Jesus Christ had, which was sufficient for the house of Israel and the whole world. She recognizes that even a small crumb that falls from the table is powerful enough to defeat the demon that has possessed her daughter. Indeed, what comes out of this woman’s heart is faith, which gave her certainty that Jesus has power enough for Israel and powerful enough to save everybody: Israelites and all gentiles without exception.
This teaches us how to persistently endure in all ups and downs through our faith and prayer. Just like the woman in the story, Jesus will always recognize our persistence, which comes from our faith and trust through prayer. Also, we need to have a clear knowledge of what we are searching for and focus on it so that nothing can deter us from seeking it. When Jesus spoke to the woman in language that demeaned her and her people, she did not lose faith nor got angry nor gave up. Rather, she kept her eyes on the goal of her mission, which was to show that even non-Jews are entitled to God’s blessings in Christ. Above all, it is the courage that the woman had that opened the dialogue. If she were not courageous enough, she would have been afraid to approach Jesus and ask him for the healing grace. Being a foreigner and as a woman in those days, it might have required from her to display great courage and boldness to approach Jesus and the cohort of his male companions.
So, courage, faith, persistent prayer, and focus on her goal were things that helped the woman obtain what she was looking for. And I believe that these were also things that helped my friend to become an American citizen. It is therefore an invitation for us to cultivate these virtues in us so that Jesus can recognize our deep faith and humility with which we come to him. And then he will say to us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
By Fr. Ouwakpare Victorin Oussoi, SVD.