20oaHomily for Mass – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

(Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 5:00pm)

10 August 2014

[Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps 66; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28]

 

On first hearing today’s Gospel, it’s easy to be shocked by what we hear! Did Jesus just say that?! Perhaps it’s just as shocking today as it was when it was first uttered … and perhaps that’s precisely the point. But, what if we could actually see the scene – where everyone was standing – and more importantly hear the voices – how did Our Lord say what he said – with what tone, and with what demeanor, and facial expression? Unfortunately, “[t]he Gospels do not come accompanied by tape recordings and photographs” [1] Whilst we don’t know these things, one thing we do know is that there was a very real link “between the Divine Perfection and the human nature assumed by the Word” in Jesus, and so we can know that Jesus’ face was kind, and his tone gentle. “The Sacred Heart was inevitably a gentleman in the special sense of the word defined by Blessed John Henry Newman: someone who never gives offence unnecessarily” [1].

Its quite possible that Our Lord was taking the known prejudices of his day, and using them in such a way as to challenge them: deliberately juxtaposing these thoughts with the reality of a woman trying to get help for her daughter.

The disciples wanted this Canaanite woman – a non-Israelite – sent away. She was causing a scene by shouting out after them. The disciples are obviously embarrassed. “Give her what she wants,-they say, – because she is shouting after us!”

It seems that almost as soon as Jesus starts speaking the woman is kneeling at his feet – and so Jesus must have seen her earnestness – and what he later says is her faith. As Jesus responds to her, he speaks those attitudes of his day that would have been accepted by many: he gives voice to the bigotry between Jew and gentile; chosen and not chosen – and starts giving the reasons why he shouldn’t help this non-Jewish woman. In other words, He starts saying what others would have been thinking.

The fact that he says what we might judge to be unthinkable only highlights the irony. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” … “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs” By this time the disciples – and anyone else who shared in the bigotry – must surely have realized that Jesus was having a go at them.

If Jesus could see the earnestness and faith of the Canaanite woman – she too could see what Jesus was really saying. And so when Jesus, with irony, compares the gentiles to dogs – she plays along, and enters into the dialogue that Jesus has begun – she knows he’s not putting her down – and so with equal irony she answers, “Ah yes, but even the house dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.”

And at that moment pennies must have been dropping everywhere! And Jesus says what he (most likely) knew the whole time, “Woman you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” And, in one sense, thankfully he didn’t say that straight away. Because we would have lost this great teaching moment; the shock value of which means that this passage holds its power even to our day.

What are we taught then? We’re taught that God’s love is for all people. Whether other people tell us we’re not worthy, or whether we tell ourselves we are not worthy, this does not change God’s attitude to us. The truth is we are all unworthy! However, despite our unworthiness, God loves us and wants our good and our eternal salvation.

Secondly, in faith we need to come to the only one who can change things for us. “LORD, have pity on me;” “LORD, help me.” These were the prayers of the Canaanite woman. She inspires us to have the same faith – to come to the Lord, and to place before him our cares and our needs.

Thirdly, there is the element of perseverance. This element is perhaps the one that puzzles us more. We persevere not because God has to be beaten into submission to fulfil our desires. That’s not a loving God. We persevere because faith is a relationship with a personal God. God is not a vending machine. We persevere because we don’t always understand how God is answering our prayers; we persevere because it’s only over time that we start seeing things from a divine perspective, rather than just our own perspective (which can get blinkered and limited and selfish, perhaps without our even realizing it).

Let’s learn today from the relationship of faith between the Canaanite woman and Jesus. May we persevere in faith, day by day and year after year, growing ever more deeply in relationship with our Lord.

[1] Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour, A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays Through the Year, [Balwyn, VIC: Freedom, 2012].