20th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Fr. Rick Sherman
Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps. 67: 2-3, 5, 6, 8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
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The main takeaway from all the readings today is that God intends to save all people. So if God wants to save all people, so likewise should those of us commissioned by God to go forth and spread the Good News, also seek to save all people. However, we are dealing with human beings here on both sides of the equation. It can get pretty complicated.
The words of Jesus can take us back a bit today when He not only refuses to help a woman because she’s not Jewish, but He also refers to her as a ‘dog’. This is not the Jesus we are used to or how we like to imagine Him. There are a couple things to consider here from a historical and scholarly perspective. One suggestion has been that because Jesus is like us in all things but sin, perhaps He does not yet understand that He will be the Savior of all. He’s still evolving as it were. Also, the Gospel of Matthew is written to a group of primarily Jewish people who have already converted and those still thinking about it. The Jewish listeners would not have been shocked at this exclusion of a non-Jew. Also, Matthew is emphasizing that Jesus wants to make every effort, with as few distractions as possible, to save the Jewish people who have indeed been set apart from all of history to be the chosen People. After the resurrection, however, Jesus clearly gives the commission to go out to all the nations and teach and baptize.
By contrast in the Gospel of Luke for example, which was written to mostly Gentiles, Jesus is much more inclusive from early on.
Paul too, is calling himself the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’, but also making the point that perhaps the Jews might get a little jealous and want to participate in the promises of the resurrection. Paul appears to have the very complex task of proclaiming the Truth of the resurrected Christ, but also conceding that God’s choice of the Jews as His Holy People would not be revoked. They just would not receive the graces of the resurrection and the sacraments if they did not convert. They were much less likely of even being faithful to their own tradition without this new ‘consciousness’ that was now available in the person of Jesus.
Of course the first reading from Isaiah, centuries before Jesus, is already envisioning a Savior for all people, for all the nations. For all those who are faithful to His covenant.
So this much can be a homily in itself. We are called to welcome everyone and see Christ in everyone. But again, when dealing with humans it can get real complicated…
This might be a good time to consider who in our communities, wherever we are from, might not feel welcome?
Think how out of place was the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. Despite being ignored and then insulted she persisted in her appeal. After all, her daughter was tormented by a demon and she was feeling desperate. She needed a miracle and was not going to give up. People come to Jesus with all kinds of needs and from a large variety of perspectives. This is certainly true in our American culture and even in our Church. How ready are we to welcome them with a good understanding of our Catholic beliefs and tradition? Have we developed the interpersonal skills to engage in a protracted, complex conversation with someone with a different perspective? ‘Welcoming’ someone to the Church is not just inviting them to Mass and then coffee and bagels…although that’s a very good start. We are inviting them into a 4000 year-old tradition (going back to Abraham) which still speaks vividly to our contemporary lives. Our well-developed and rich tradition is essential to facing the extraordinary challenges in our personal lives, in our society and throughout the world.
Today the Canaanite woman inspired us with her persistence in the face of grave need and danger. We need that same persistence in our relationship with Jesus to obtain the power and healing needed in our lives and culture.
This persistence is also needed, unfortunately, when seeking a new or renewed relationship with Jesus via His Church. We can feel very vulnerable and perhaps out of place. We might meet a number of people who are not particularly inspiring or welcoming. Joining and re-entry is always a process and we are all still growing in Wisdom and finesse.
How ready are we to offer a genuine WELCOME to the Church? Or even a WELCOME BACK to someone who has drifted away or stormed out for any variety of reasons? How can we best prepare? How is God calling us?