Browsing Homilies

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 56:1, 6-7 | Ps 67 | Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 | Mt 15:21-28

About six centuries before the time of Jesus, the final chapters of Isaiah were written. We heard a bit from one of these chapters in our first reading today. This was a time when the exile of Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon was coming to an end. The prophet’s words in this period were meant to instill hope as the exiles anticipated what it would be like to return to Jerusalem that had been occupied by foreigners for more than a generation. The exiles probably assumed that they were the “in” crown, the ones favored by God who would restore Jerusalem and its sacred temple to its former glory. But the words from Isaiah sound a slightly different note.

Many in our world, perhaps many among self-proclaimed Christians, assume that there is an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd, especially when it comes to the faith. But as with many assumptions, this kind of who’s-in-and-who’s-out thinking gets turned on its head if we pay attention to Scripture.

Today’s gospel from Matthew tells the startling story of a Canaanite woman, a descendant of the peoples that were driven out of the Promised Land as a punishment for their idolatry, child sacrifice, and other evil practices, and she comes to Jesus, begging for help for her daughter. This is startling not because of her request for healing for her child but because of the tone of the interchange. Basically, Jesus first ignores her request, saying he has come for the lost sheep of Israel, and then basically calls her a dog (a slur that was somewhat common in interchanges between Jews and Gentiles). If we find this shocking, we should! It feels completely out of sync with the compassion Jesus usually shows. But to her credit, the woman absorbs the insult and says she’ll settle for any scraps he can give, just as a household dog might do.

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus is setting up his followers, luring them into the exchange so that he can point out her strong faith in contrast to their own. Three times prior to this point in the gospel, Jesus has lamented the “little faith” of his closest followers. The first time was in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:30), when Jesus instructs his followers to depend on God as do the wildflowers. The other two times involved calming the sea when his disciples were terrified (8:26; 14:31). And now a Canaanite woman, who most definitely is not part of the “in” crowd, receives praise from Jesus: “great is your faith.”

Perhaps our lesson today is to examine our own assumptions and presumptions. Where is Jesus inviting us to welcome in those who might be different from us, those who might seem unworthy? Because the truth is, in one way or another, we are all outsiders. All of us are carrying a cross. We are all in need of some type of healing. And it’s in our very desperation, weakness, sinfulness, confusion, and pain that Jesus wants to meet us. He came for the lost sheep of Israel, yes, but to the lost pagans of Canaan, too, and for us who have no one else to turn to but him.

We are invited to turn to Christ with boldness, just as he persists with boldness in his pursuit for us. Let us do so, and then pray fervently with the psalmist and acclaim, “O God, let all the nations praise you!”


RSS Feed


Access all blogs

Subscribe to all of our blogs