Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time A
August 15, 2020
Matthew 15: 21-28
By Rev. John Tran
This is the only passage in the Gospels in which Jesus is outside Jewish territory and in Greek speaking territory. Some speculate that he is there to avoid the crowds he is surrounded by in Jewish territory because he realizes that his time is near. And yet he is approached by this non Jewish woman and asked to heal her daughter. At first Jesus refuses, but then is astounded by her faith and heals as she asks.
It is not hard to discover the unifying theme of today's readings. In Isaiah, the prophet makes it clear that non Jews who accept the Lord as their God, and worship and serve Him, are to be accepted into the Jewish community as true believers. In Romans, Paul speaks to the gentiles (non-Jews) about their call to faith from God and their acceptance of this call and faithfulness to it. And, in the Gospel, Matthew writes of the Gentile woman of Canaan who has the faith that many an Israelite should envy. It does not take a scripture scholar to figure this out. So, what does this mean for us? Few of us are trying to make Christianity a religion only for the Jews.
I think that these reading have a lot to say to us today. Let’s first take a look at this Canaanite woman in the gospel reading. First and most importantly, she has love. In a sense she made the misery of her child her own. Love made her accept Jesus silence and tough talk. Even if Jesus gave her a hard time, her love and compassion for her child drove her to wait patiently for an answer. Secondly, she was a woman of faith. It was her faith which drew her to contact Jesus, who was a stranger and a Jew. She looked on Jesus as a great and powerful wonder worker, and was sure that in his kindness and sense of justice, he would hear her and answer her. And finally, she had a persistence that could not be shaken; she could not be discouraged. Why? Jesus was her only hope and her confidence in him was strong.
She is a person that you and I can imitate. In a sense, she is the perfect Christian. But not only is she to be imitated, Jesus uses her to show us that belief in him is not limited to any group. His followers are not to be elitist. As St. Paul points out, Jesus is not giving his message of salvation only to Jews, but to non Jews, to both men and women, to the slave as well as the free. Can we say that we embody the Canaanite woman or Jesus so well that we make no distinction to whom we invite into our church or we give our help?
The problem is that even if we do not exclude people consciously, we often do by indifference. Writing in the 1930s, St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “The most deadly poison of our times is indifference;” and this is still true today. More than ever before, we are called to use all in our power to bring all into faith in Christ. We do this not only by what we say, but more importantly by how we act. What am I doing to bring the powerless into the love of Jesus Christ by acting in his love. How am I indifferent to the needs or rights of others? How can I become more active in bringing about God’s Kingdom here and now? The suffering of one person, or group of persons, is the suffering of us all. Indifference and exclusion have no place in our lives.
A Franciscan Sister of Mercy, herself a Croat who grew up in Serbia, has been working with rape victims of Bosnia as well as trying to find housing for the many refugees. Dressed in her nun’s habit, she goes to a door and pleads with those who answer, “I have no place to stay. I’m hungry. Can you take me in?” Croatia is deeply Catholic country, so the answer to the nun’s plea is almost always, “Of course, Sister.” Then the nun steps back to let the real refugees with her be seen. They are usually taken in by the family. Can we move beyond the obvious? Can we go beyond our prejudices, which is the source of much of our indifference?