TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
We live in a world and, unfortunately, in a Church where some are regarded as ‘insiders’ and others as ‘outsiders.’ All three readings today remind us of the universality and inclusiveness of God’s love―all are invited to sit at God’s table.
FIRST READING: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
God loves all people and not just his chosen people. As Isaiah writes these words during the post-exilic period of Israel’s history, there are lots of foreigners living in Israel. Many Jews, including the leaders, consider such people as outsiders and resist their joining in the worship services even though they are willing to accept the God of Israel and follow his ways. Isaiah challenges such a parochial and narrow mentality. Isaiah states that if non-Jews “love the name of the Lord, become his servants, observe Sabbath, hold to God’s covenant,” then they must be welcomed into God’s house of prayer for “God’s house is for all peoples.”
SECOND READING: Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
These verses are a continuation of last week’s reading, which opened Paul’s discussion on the fate of Jews who reject Jesus. Paul is hoping that the crowds of Gentiles joining the New Way will arouse so much envy in his fellow Jews that they will also accept Jesus and his message. Paul expresses his hope and profound desire that all who have initially rejected Jesus will, at some time in the future, accept him. Like Isaiah and Jesus, Paul wants all people to be included in God’s saving plan.
GOSPEL: Matthew 15:21-28
The biggest pastoral issue in the early Church has to do with the antagonistic treatment of Gentiles, especially those who embrace Jesus and his New Way. In Jesus’ time, Gentiles are despised by Jews and seen as “good fuel for the fires of hell.”
Matthew has Jesus confine his mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But Jesus is also open to showing God’s mercy to non-Jews. We can feel the tension in the story as the Gentile woman refuses to go away. The disciples want Jesus to get rid of this “blathering woman” who keeps yelling at them as she searches for deliverance for her daughter from an evil spirit. The story even shows Jesus’ reluctance to deal with her. Worse still, he calls the woman a “dog”! What’s going on here?
Some commentators try to get Jesus off the hook for his nasty remark, but perhaps we need to accept the fact that Jesus, in this case, is acting like a normal first century Jew who called Gentiles ‘dogs.’
However, the real point of this story is not Jesus and his seeming rudeness, but the woman and her wonderful tenacity and faith. She was simply not going to be put off, even by rudeness. Her comeback plea is so humble and yet so firm that even the Son of God cannot say ‘no’ to her. Fr. Dennis McBride notes: “The Canaanite woman is the only person in the Gospel who has the wit to outwit Jesus. In the end, she gets what she was seeking.”
The tenacity and persistence of the woman should be a source of inspiration to all people who are in any way oppressed and put down. The Canaanite woman lives in a male-dominated society. She is a foreigner who ventures alone into a Jewish milieu. When confronted by a distant—and should we say rude—Jesus, she does not sulk. Rather, she persists until she gets what she wants. Despite her background, she ends up as one of the most highly commended persons in the Gospel. Christ came for all. God really wants all at the table. The woman’s wonderful faith in Jesus’ saving power is the central point of this story.
What can we learn from the way the Canaanite woman handled Jesus’ insult?