Homily for Wednesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time Cycle II
Theme: PRAYING FROM AN EVIL FAMILY BACKGROUND!
By: Fr. Benedict Agbo
Homily for Wednesday August 5 2020
* Jer 31: 1 – 7, Matt 15: 21 – 28.
Who are ‘the people of God’ – the ‘Israel’ of God mentioned in today’s 1st reading with these assurances of blessings : ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel… I have loved you with an everlasting love’?, Jer 31 :1-7. Why was the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel told : ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ‘? Are we dealing with a partial God here? Why was the allusion of ‘Children’s bread being thrown to dogs’ made to her? Why did she finally receive the love and mercy of God in spite of her supposedly poor spiritual pedigree – her ‘evil family /environmental roots’ as some theologians like Fr Stephen Njoku of blessed memory would put it?
It is an existential facticity that our destiny is influenced by 2 factors ; the heritage of nature and nurture ; the circumstances of hereditary and environment. As my late father will always say : ‘Afa Nna anyi k’ anyi ji aga’ – Each one of us moves on with our family heritage. If we inherit good things from our parents (their physical appearance, land, their good name/ behavioural traits), it is only natural sometimes that we also inherit bad things from them as well (their ugly features, bad character, bad name or evil consequences of some of their actions). But our baptismal inheritance (if we so believe) changes our heritage from that of idolatry to that of Abraham’s children – the heritage of faith and blessedness. Only our personal faith can appropriate this new dispensation of grace, cf Ezek 18 :21 – 23, Rom 10 :9.
The issue of “evil family root” and its so called therapy “oruezinulo” has become one of the hotest issues in Contemporary theology especially in this part of Africa. God’s mercy and justice gives room for every child of God to exercise his/ her faith and join in the universal ‘Isreal’ – the recipients of the promise of everlasting love of God found in today’s first reading.
The prayer of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel is a sample prayer that gives hope to all of us here in Africa and other non Christian continents who have a pedigree of idolatry, witchrafting, demonology, etc. Praying requires for us more effort in faith and more perseverance. Our baptismal inheritance (for those who believe) is supposed to change our heritage from that of idolatry to that of Abraham’s children – the heritage of faith and blessedness. Only our personal faith can appropriate this new dispensation of grace, Ezek 18: 21 – 23, Rom 10: 9.
This is why Jesus applauds the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. Some scripture scholars have described today’s gospel as ‘the miracle with a smile’ because one cannot but imagine the smile on Jesus’ face right from the time he poked her with a joke till when he saw the prevailing faith and power of persistent prayer in this humble woman. Her prayer point was for deliverance of her daughter severely possessed by a demon (part of what we usually find in pagan territories). Her prayer encounter with Jesus passed through 3 stages:
1. Stage of distant relationship; Here she prayed and cried out from her Canaanite region of spiritual backwardness. What she called Jesus was “Son of David”. Jews considered the Canaanites to be a sinful race that embodied all that was wicked and dirty. And were exterminated from the patrimony of grace with such terms as “dogs” appropriated to them. Of course Jesus did not share the same view but the woman did. Her initial address of Jesus played into that Jewish mentality. So Jesus waited until she liberated herself from that mentality/ obstacle of faith by her next address of Jesus.
2. Stage of personal relationship; Here she now came and knelt down before Jesus and said “Lord, please help me”. That was more encouraging. But Jesus had to explain to her the consequence of her evil background: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’.
3. Stage of intimate relationship; This woman now impressed Jesus by her persistent prayer and argument: ‘Yeah, Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table’. That was her trump card! That was the winning argument!
Today’s gospel is an encouragment to those who think that their prayers will no longer be answered because of the sins of their forefathers/ evil family roots. But it is also a warning to those who think that the circumstances of their family roots do not matter in their prayer life. It is not imperative that certain rituals must be performed before Jesus can grant us deliverance especially after sacramental baptism. However, the need for repentance among incumbent family members must not be taken for granted. Such prayers that guarantee this repentance (example the holy mass) is highly recommended.
May God bless you today.