Reflections on the Readings
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
A Mother's Prayer
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." (Matthew 15:22)
I have in memory a time when I saw my mother on her knees. She was praying. No one should underestimate the prayers of a mother. It is the faithful and persistent prayers of a mother that has brought the smile of heaven upon a sick child. The prayers of a mom storming heaven has brought home many a wayward, rebellious daughter. And it is the prayers of mom in heaven that still bring the blessing of God upon her children.
I remember a very special dream that God gave me many years ago. It was a very difficult and hurtful time in my life. Back in my protestant days I had become pastor of the Pentecostal church of my youth. It was the same church founded by my great-grandfather. And now I was the pastor of that church.
But the years had changed me and I was no longer the same 'Pentecostal' boy everyone remembered. I was more polished and had studied more and well, I had become a man and married and now had three small children. New people were coming to our church and the newness of new people and the new 'Dennis' was just too much for the old-timers. They met and decided my fate and voted me out. Me and my wife and our three small children were unceremoniously removed from the Pentecostal church of my youth and was given a 'severance' pay check from the church. I remember thinking, "And this is the church?"
These were people I had known all of my life. You might imagine some of the feelings and desperation I felt. I was angry and confused and felt like a foreigner in the middle of everything that I had ever known. I did everything I could to support my family. Times were more than hard. Working at a local grocery store I carried out the groceries for the same people who had made it difficult for me to have groceries. When I worked at the fast food restaurant, I cooked hamburgers for the same some folks who didn't like the Sunday morning food I had been giving them. My life, my emotions, my world was falling apart.
And then there was the dream I mentioned. In my dream my mother was telling me that I needed to forgive the people who had caused me so much grief. I remember in my dream the tension and hurt and tears I wanted to cry but couldn't. I cried back to my mother, "It's so hard!" And she answered me with the clarity that she had answered me with a million times when I was growing up, "I know it's hard, but you have to." How does a mother always know?
It is difficult with our modern notions to understand the exchange Jesus is having with this little mother from the other side of the tracks. She is a gentile; she and her people are not the heirs of the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. Hers is not the patriarchs nor from her people is the lineage of the one she now addresses as Son of David. She understands her situation when Jesus says it is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. But it is the insight of a mother that replies, "Yes, Lord, yet even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." And it is with the deepest endearment that Jesus exclaims, "O woman, great is your faith!" It is the same endearment Jesus expresses to his own mother in John chapter 2 when he says, "Woman, my time has not yet come." And his mother said, "Whatever he tells you to do, do it." A mother is perceptive when it comes to destiny and things that matter most.
Outside of the brief conversations in scripture between Jesus and his mother, there isn't any greater conversation in scripture than this one between Jesus and this mother of the world of the gentiles. No one knows the needs of their children better than a mother. And this mother knows that something dreadful has happened to her daughter. And she intuitively knows that this one she recognizes as the Son of David can heal her daughter.
We need more of this kind of courageous and persistent prayer from our mothers in the Church. Not to exclude the necessity and power of a daddy's prayer, but there aren't many words to describe the wonder and the power and the faith that fills the cry of a mother. This precious mother is satisfied that there is a place at the table for her. And she is more than convinced that there is mercy in those crumbs that fall from the master's table.
Indeed there is mercy at this Table this morning. At this Table you may bring your deepest needs and prayers. For more than crumbs are offered here; it is the body and blood of him who says to you and to me as he said to the Canaanite woman, "Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. Amen.