Speaking Up
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Antonio P. Pueyo
August 14, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

In some cultures, it is considered a sign of disrespect if anyone with a lower status unexpectedly speaks up, or expresses an opinion to somebody higher. In our Filipino culture for example, when a parent is correcting a son or daughter, the child is expected to keep silent and not answer back. The same cultural expectation is carried over to the place of work. Maids are not supposed to talk back to the houseowner, nor employees to the employer.

This kind of attitude is now changing. With the recognition of human rights and equality, speaking up is no longer automatically considered an affront. In fact, people are encouraged to speak and to fight for their rights.

The Canaanite Woman in the Gospel story this Sunday seems to be ahead of her times. She was a Gentile and a woman. She was not supposed to speak to or ask favor from a Jew. She should have known her place. There were cultural expectations she ought to have observed. She broke them all. She sought Jesus. She spoke to Him. She asked for a favor. More shocking still, she would not take "No" for an answer. She stood her ground. Jesus was moved by her faith and not only granted her request, but commended her. "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." (Mt. 15:28).

What were the characteristics of the woman petitioner that moved Jesus from a conventional behavior to a non-conventional one?

First, the woman knew what she needed and wanted from Jesus. She knew that what she wanted was the right thing. She expressed her need with conviction. She was willing to suffer humiliation just to get what she came for. She needed healing for her daughter. She was fighting for her daughter and she knew this was the right thing to do. She was convinced of her cause and spoke up for it. She was humiliated by approaching an Israelite, by asking for a favor from a stranger, and by the initial refusal. Yet she did not give up. She knew she was doing the right thing, there was nothing ambiguous about it. The Canaanite woman was convinced of the rightness of her cause.

The story of this woman is a story of purposefulness, tenacity, and sacrifice. These are the dynamics of active involvement for the sake of the Kingdom of God. First, we must have a cause (a Kingdom value such as life, freedom, human rights, dignity, equality, justice) to promote. We usually get involved in such causes because we have been in touch with situations that call for our response. W e have experienced (directly or vicariously) disregard for life, and violations of human rights. Second, we commit ourselves. Our involvement should not only be of the brush fire variety. It should come from both a rational and a passionate conviction. We have thought out the consequences of such involvement. Sometimes passion runs out or discouragement sets in. Third, we are willing to pay the price for our involvement. We may suffer humiliation and persecution. It is faith that sustains us - faith that the Kingdom will prevail. We need the kind of faith that the Canaanite woman has.

Action starter: Is there any cause you are promoting or advocating? What are you convinced about and willing to sacrifice for?