Friday, August 12, 2011

A successful recipe for prayer

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."
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him,
"Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply,
"It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish."
And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.  (Mt 15:21-28)

This is the Gospel reading for this upcoming Sunday. It relays the story of a famous exchange between Jesus and a Canaanite (i.e. Gentile) woman. If you're like me, Jesus' initial refusal to help her and his seemingly-condescending tone, can catch you off-guard. But there is a valuable lesson that he teaches in the way that he responds.

First, the woman approaches Jesus and makes a humble request. But humility alone was not enough.

But she persists. Persistence, too, was not enough.

Then, the woman worships Jesus, calling him "Lord." But worship alone was still not enough.

Finally, the woman verbalizes her faith. Finally, Jesus heeds her request.

When we pray and bring requests to God, we should take a lesson from this story. We should make our requests in humility and selflessness (the woman in the story, after all, is seeking healing for her daughter -- not herself). We should be persistent in our prayers. And we should never neglect to worship and praise God in faith. These four ingredients (humility, persistence, adoration and faith) are necessary for effective prayer.

Lastly, take a look at the last line of the reading: "the woman's daughter was healed from that hour." Her petition was effective. Christ answered her request and healed her daughter. But we are not told how she was healed. Was it in the way that the woman expected?

When we pray with humility and persistence, worshiping and in faith, our prayers will surely be answered. But "God's ways are not our ways," and we cannot always expect that the healing for which we ask will be in our time frame nor in the ways that we can fully understand.

As we continue to prepare for a new academic year, learn and use this recipe for effective prayer. And let us all join the Canaanite woman in humbly seeking "scraps from the table."