14 Aug, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The gospel shows a woman of great faith and determination. Like her, we can come to the Lord with our needs, trusting him even if at first he seems not to care about our predicament. With Jesus, there are no “outsiders” who are excluded from his grace just because of the accidents of birth, race or education. Similarly, Paul’s great trust in God’s universal saving will for humans allows him to trust that even his fellow-Jews who rejected Jesus will reach salvation.
Is 56:1,6-7. Every individual is acceptable to God, provided we earnestly try to live a virtuous life.
Rom 11:13-15. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, trusts that eventually his fellow-Jews also will acknowledge Christ as the Messiah.
Mt 15:21-28. Jesus answers the persistent prayer of a Gentile woman and praises her faith.
– that we may never spurn or neglect Christ’s generous offer of his body in Communion.
– for all those, and particularly the young, who have drifted away from receiving Communion, that they will return to the Master’s table.
– that all people everywhere may eventually acknowledge Christ as the Saviour, who brings us to God.
– for priests and lay ministers of the community, and all who contribute to the ongoing Eucharistic life of this parish.
Outsiders Get In (Patrick Rogers)
1. Pigeonholes: For office purposes, filing cabinets and pigeonholes are splendid. Separate compartments where accounts, applications, drafts etc. can be tidily stored away, everything in its proper place. No surprises and no disorder! There’s a temptation to think of God’s grace as parcelled out in the same neat, orderly way-as something reserved for the People of God. Many of the Jews adopted this view, and badly needed the universalist message of Isaiah: “House of prayer for all nations.” We Christians may need to be reminded of it too: God wills ALL men to be saved; in the Father’s house there are many mansions.
2. Blessings of Loss: Our heavenly Father draws people towards Himself in strange, unpredictable ways. Just as in a family the misfortune of one member can serve to unite the others in a new, protective loyalty; or as in business the failure of one concern can direct energy into a new, more productive line.. so the rejection of Our Saviour by the Jews resulted in His more rapid acceptance throughout the Gentile world. It’s an ill wind blows good to nobody! Even the lapses and sins of mankind can be turned to good account, says Paul in a profound but difficult section of his letter to the Romans: “God has imprisoned all men in disobedience only to show mercy on all.” Our own past sins will not bar us from Christ-they only show us how much we need him (“To seek and save what was lost.”)
3. Crumbs in the Kitchen: Still, there’s a real problem in today’s Gospel. Why does Jesus want to limit himself to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” Was he not concerned for people of other nations, like that foreign woman with the loud voice, who pleaded for his help? What did he mean by the children’s bread, that must not be shared by the dogs? How easily that poor woman could have given up, insulted and discouraged, after such a remark!
Well, she didn’t give up; that’s the first thing. Second, she found the perfectr answer: “Even the pups get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table!” Thirdly, her prayer was answered, and her faith warmly praised. But still, what do we make of the initial remark? A popular idiom in Israel, used by Jesus to convey that his primary mission was the conversion of his own Jewish people? Historically, that was his way; first to revive the Chosen People, so that these in turn would furnish a “house of prayer for all nations.” However, even during his lifetime He was willing to receive those pagans who came to him; and he predicted that in future “many will come from East and West, and will sit down at table in the Kingdom of God.” Notice too the world-wide mission of the disciples, after the Resurrection (Mat. 28:18.)
4. Expanding circles: That’s how Christian faith spreads-like the rippling circles expanding on the surface when a stone drops into a still pond. First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Always handed on by direct contact, the sharing of trust, the witness of peaceful conviction, the bearing of one another’s burdens. But will our path of faith be smooth? Or will there be setbacks and obstacles, objections from people more clever than ourselves, a contrary wind of current opinion hostile to religious belief? In such circumstances, the Canaanite woman offers inspiration, with her iron resolve coupled with good humour and ready wit.
5. Let the Peoples praise you! Above all, believers must try to share with others the spirit of praise, towards the God who cares for us all, and who turns all things unto good for those who love Him. Zeal for sharing our Catholic faith, yes! But without any anguish that others might be lost simply for failing to conform to our doctrine. It takes few dogmatic ideas to support the spirit of thankfulness and joyful praise. Today, as we offer our Christian sacrifice, may we renew our hope for the salvation of mankind, and resolve to share with others the fundamental outlook of living faith.
The Master’s Table (Liam Swords)
My mother took me to the local draper to buy me a suit. I was getting ready for my First Communion. I tried on several suits and my mother made me walk up and down while she and the draper discussed the relative merits of each. Eventually, one was chosen to the satisfaction of both. I was delighted too, as it was the one I had set my heart on. They began to haggle over the price, while I waited impatiently to get back to play with my friends. It was then I noticed that the atmosphere had changed.
It appears that we had an outstanding account in that shop and the draper decided to use this occasion to settle it. My mother offered to make a small deposit but the draper would have none of it. It was all or nothing. I was ashamed to hear my mother pleading with him, though I knew, God love her, she was doing it all for me. It was all in vain. We left the shop empty-handed, my mother squeezing my hand to ease my disappointment, while I fought hard to hold back tears, more of shame than disappointment. She found a piece of material somewhere and the local tailor ran up a suit just in time. It was nothing out of the ordinary while the draper’s son, who was my friend and classmate, looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Looking at my First Cornmunion photo now, all I now recall about that special occasion, is the incident in the draper’s shop.
It puts me in mind of the way the Canaanite woman kept pleading with Jesus to cure her little girl. Her insistence was matched only by Christ’s indifference. “He answered her not a word.” Even his disciples were dismayed by his lack of compassion. “Give her what she wants,” they pleaded. The woman dropped to her knees. “Lord,” she pleaded,. “help me.” When at last he spoke to her his words sounded brutal. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But a child’s pain can make a mother eloquent. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table,” she replied. It was enough. Her prayer was answered.
I remember, when I was an altar boy, a man who came to Holy Communion every morning. The strange thing about this man was that I never saw him outside the church but he was drunk. I was too young then to realise that he was an alcoholic. He wasn’t the type we would expect to find at the altar rails every morning. But he was the type God expects to find there. And he knew that. He pestered heaven with his pleas for help.
Christ knows our failings and our weaknesses. He knows – our troubles better than we do ourselves. Others give us a helping hand when we are in trouble. He gives us his whole body so that we might borrow his whole might in carrying our burdens. “This is my body which is given for you,” he said. It is sad to see how many of us let this help go a-begging. The real tragedy is that just those people who most need it seldom take it. Christ doesn’t send anyone away hungry. Like the Canaanite woman and that alcoholic, we too should come for “the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.”
Catholics and Muslims (John O’Connell)
When St Matthew included the story of the Cananite woman forty to fifty years after the event, he did so to get the Christians of his community who were mostly converts from Judaism to change their attitude towards pagan gentiles. He is challenging the Christian community to broaden their horizons. God is not confined to one group of select individuals: he is present to all people and has the whole world in his hands.
This Gospel also challenges us Christians of today to broaden our horizons as regards non-Christians, and particularly as regards Muslims who are very much in the news at the moment for all the wrong reasons. The suicide bombers who are creating havoc all over the world – in Iraq, in Palestine, in America and nearer home more recently in London – are all Muslims. Also, the radical clerics who support and encourage them are all Muslims.
Islam is one of the largest and fastest growing religions in the world – one billion members world wide, four to five million in America, large numbers in England and a significant presence in Ireland, especially in Dublin.
The official attitude of the Catholic Church towards Muslims can be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and I quote: ‘The Church has a high regard for Muslims. They worship God who is one, living, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth who has also spoken to men. They link their faith to that of Abraham……They venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honour. Further, they await the day of judgement . For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God especially by way of prayer, alms-giving and fasting’.
An expert on Christian-Muslim dialogue makes some interesting comments in an article in ‘The Tablet’. Just as there are many different types of Christians, so too there are many different types of Muslims. Generalisations should be avoided, such as all Muslims are this that or the other thing.
From the point of view of dialogue there are hopeful signs. Plenty of contemporary Islamic movements are deeply committed to non-violence. Christians need to set the record straight – there is no intrinsic link between Islam and terrorism. There are very few atheists in Muslim countries. The vast majority of Muslims do not question the authority of their sacred book – the Koran.
Muslims often find Christians a puzzle. For instance, they find it strange that some people who claim to be loyal Catholics yet do not agree with everything the Pope says. Public prayer is important to Muslims. They turn towards Mecca and pray five times a day without any embarrassment whatsoever. Catholic public prayer is now for the most part confined to less than one hour on a Sunday. Catholic fasting nowadays is done in private, if done at all. Muslims during Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month.
There is the negative side of course. In most Muslim countries Christians are very restricted as to when and where they can worship. Also, Saudi Arabia recently spent 65 million in building a Mosque in Rome and at the same time refuse to allow any Christian building in their country. But there is a positive side to the dialogue and I believe that the only way forward is to follow the advice of the Vatican Council which urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding for the benefit of all.
Salvation Outside? (John Walsh)
The people of Israel, when chosen by God as his own special people, regarded themselves as being uniquely favoured, and rightly so. But by way of conclusion from this they began to regard all other people as being just so much material for stoking up the fires of hell. Yet we have God proclaiming through the prophet Isaiah, “Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love his name – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer” (Is 56:6). I wonder how those Jews, who so abhorred all gentiles, could ever reconcile this saying with their own attitudes.
However, lest we feel like condemning their bigotry, it is well to remember that up to the middle of the nineteenth century it was the firm conviction of many Catholics that only members of the Catholic Church could be saved, and those outside the Church could only be saved by belonging to the soul of the Church, whatever that really meant. As with the Jews, this was a flawed argument that in effect tried to set bounds to the scope of God’s grace, to see him as a kind of sectarian God, serving the interests of a limited and select group. But Sacred Scripture – both Old and New Testaments – warns us against such a narrow and biased outlook. God’s house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples, and God will make them all joyful in this house.
This was what God was proclaiming through the prophet Isaiah, as given in the first reading. St Paul, who regarded himself as being privileged to be chosen as an apostle for the pagans, reiterates that God will show his mercy to all mankind without exception. Moreover, the gospel story foreshadows the breaking down of racial divides when it tells us how Jesus cured the daughter of a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites, we should remember, were the traditional ancestral enemies of the Jews. They were regarded as a sinful race that embodied all that is wicked and godless, a race, according to Jewish thinking, to be wiped off the face of the earth. It was the only occasion recorded in the gospel when Jesus was ever outside Jewish territory, and what transpired there foreshadows the spread of the gospel to the entire world.
It marked the dawn of a new era, when membership of God’s holy and chosen people would no longer be restricted to followers of the Mosaic Law only. Confirmation of this is found in the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his Ascension, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.” Indeed the heart of the Christian message lies in this: that irrespective of lass, race, nationality or colour, whether we are sophisticated and learned, or uneducated and ignorant, whether we are rich or poor, we are all called to be members of the newly constituted family, which has God as Father, and Jesus Christ as brother.
As St Paul pointed out to the people of Colossae, we are the people of God; he loved us and chose us for his own, and not because of any merit of ours, or the colour of our skin, or because we are morally or intellectually superior to others. God’s choice of us to live out the gospel of Christ to the full is really a mystery. And just as certain people within the state, such as members of the armed forces or police, wear a distinctive uniform, so must we Christians be distinguishable among the rest of mankind by a kind of uniform also, not in any material way, but spiritually. “You must clothe yourselves,” says St Paul, “with compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience.” Christ’s message, which is that of love towards others, must live in all its richness in all our hearts. Everything we do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as we give thanks through him to God the Father. It is only then that we become really Christian, that barriers are broken down, that we can go forward, sustained by, and sustaining, the community which has been brought into being by the preaching of the message of Christ. Finally, you might ponder over, and bring away with you, this saying of St Augustine, when speaking from Hippo, as bishop to the people of his diocese, about the union that should exist between them, “What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian.”
Inclusive Love (Martin Hogan)
At the centre of last Sunday’s gospel was Peter, a man of little faith. At the heart of today’s gospel is a woman of great faith. It is often the case that faith is not found where we might have expected it and is found in abundance where we would least expect it. We can be taken by surprise at the faith of some and the lack of faith of others. Many of the prophet’s contemporaries would have been surprised and even offended at his vision of the godless foreigners streaming into the house of God. Paul was surprised and disappointed that his own race, the people of God, rejected the gospel of God’s Son, whereas the blind and foolish Gentiles embraced it. Today’s readings implicitly warn us of the danger of pre-judging, categorizing, and compartmentalizing others. They alert us to the possibility of being surprised at the workings of God among men and women. Perhaps what is often our own attitude is best reflected in the behaviour of the disciples in today’s gospel. They wanted Jesus to send away as quickly as pssible this annoying pagan woman. On another occasion they asked Jesus for permission to bid fire come down from heaven and consume a Samaritan town (Lk 9:45.) Far from complying with the disciples” request, today’s gospel reading mentions, no less than three times, that Jesus “answered” the woman. Her “kyrie eleison” did not go unanswered, because in Jesus ( ~d was showing mercy to all humankind (Second Reading.)
One might contrast the inclusive attitude of Jesus with our own exclusive attitudes. We can suffer from a religious snobbery, a boastfulness which excludes others from the possibility of a relationship with God which we consider ourselves to enjoy. We can be blind to the movements of the Spirit in the lives of those who belong to a different church from ours. We may be slow to acknowledge an openness to God among those who are of a different race, colour. background or social class to ourselves. The readings remind us that we cannot possess God for ourselves, that he can never be the exclusive property of any one group. The cry: “God is on our side” is a dangerous and misleading one. God is always greater than our idea of him and he refuses to be contained by our often narrow view of him. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exod 33:19.)
We are called to show forth in our lives the inclusiveness of God. One might invite the congregation to reflect on whether or not they are unjustly excluding people from their lives. It is easy and natural to love those who love us, to be good to those who are good to us, to pray for those who pray for us, to include only those who include us. More is required of those who have received in abundance God’s merciful love.
Faith in Action (Jack McArdle)
Today’s gospel is a beautiful vignette of faith in action, and in a way is quite puzzling. Jesus seems to ignore the woman, and then be offensive, before he yields to her persistent faith, and answers her prayer.
Over the years we have all witnessed the stories of those who were wrongly imprisoned for many years, before their pleas of innocence were listened to, and they were finally released. It must be really traumatic to be accused in the wrong, to be sentenced to prison, and to be vilified in the press when, all the time, the person knows that he is innocent. The sheer persistence, and a stubborn refusal to give up, must have taken a heavy toll of those who were in such a situation. I sometimes reflect on what they must be thinking when they are released, and recall the chilling words of the judge who lectured them, before passing sentence. The woman in today’s gospel loved her daughter so much that she just would not take “no” for an answer.
The woman in today’s gospel is an unusual woman. Firstly, she was not a Jew, and yet, in approaching Jesus, she called him “O Lord, Son of David.” This was a mark of reverence for who he was and what he was. Obviously, it was her love for her daughter that drove her to overcome every barrier, and to persist in any search, if that could save her daughter. As far as Jesus was concerned, she was on a trump card here, because she was doing exactly what he would ask anybody to do. She was driven by love, and that was sure to find a response within the heart of Jesus.
It is difficult to understand why Jesus seemed to ignore her, and even to insult her. I can only imagine that he was teaching his disciples a lesson. It was they who asked him to send her away, because she was a persistent nuisance. He may have wanted them to discover that she was much more than that, and that her faith was something they may not have witnessed before. It was as if he knew that her love for her daughter was so strong that she just could not be put off. He adopted the official Jewish line against such people, because they were considered no better than dogs, while the Jews were the children of God. The woman wasn’t going to get sucked into a discussion or a debate; she looked to Jesus for a decision, and she was not disappointed.
One can almost imagine Jesus throwing his hands in the air, and giving up! The apostles were right; get rid of this woman! There was only one way to get rid of her, however, and that was to give her what she was looking for. Despite all that had gone before, one can easily imagine Jesus smiling, and with warmth in his voice, he told her to go on home, that her daughter was healed. There is a saying nowadays, “Don’t invade my space.” Well, she had come at him like a JCB, went through everything in the way, and she came away with what she came to receive. I could imagine Jesus saying “What a woman!’
Response: Let’s look at this woman again. She is not aggressive, or demanding anything as her right. She is powerless, the daughter she loves is dying, and she has nowhere else to turn. Like the apostles in the boat in the midst of the Storm, the point of experiencing our powerlessness and helplessness is the point at which we can come face to face with Jesus. He is the only one who will continue to be there for us. “I will never leave you, or abandon you in the storm.” “If you have found him, never let him go,” is a line from a song of some years ago. The first Step in a Twelve Step Programme is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” This clears the way for an appeal to a Higher Power.
The power this woman had came from her love, and from her humility. She didn’t see herself as deserving anything, and she was prepared to be grateful for the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. The combination of her love and humility insulated her from the slings and arrows of others. She was single minded in her quest, and she never took her mind off what she wanted. Surely this makes for a powerful prayer of intercession. There are several incidents in the gospel like this, such as Bartimneus, the blind man. Even though those around him told him to keep quiet, he continued to call Out to Jesus, until Jesus stopped, and called him to come to him, where he was healed. At another time, Jesus asked a man “Do you want to be healed?’
It is obvious that this woman wants her daughter to be healed, and with her love and humility, there’s no way Jesus could continue to ignore her!
This woman may not have done much homework or research on Jesus before approaching him. However, for whatever reason, she seems to have got the “measure” of him, and this prompted her not to take “no” for an answer. She was a Gentile and he was a Jew; he was a man, and she was a woman. In those days each person had a place on the ladder of life, and they were expected to stay within those boundaries. It was because her love for her daughter was boundless that she probably would have followed him into the Temple, if she had to! Jesus didn’t go around healing people; rather he went around, and he healed when he was stopped and asked. Bartimeus was told “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Bartimeus had a choice. He could call out to him, and stop him; or he could die a blind man. The woman in today’s gospel is a clear example of someone who has enough faith, hope, and love, to enable her to keep going, and not give up until the miracle happens.
A friend of mine is an alcoholic, and when he began attending AA meetings at the beginning, he found it difficult. However, one old-timer who had been around the block for many years, brought him aside and gave him a word of advice: “Just keep showing up at the meetings, and don’t leave until the miracle happens.” He has followed that advice, and he has now been sober for many years. If a child asks Santa for a bicycle around about early Oct, and he never mentions the word “bicycle” again, I doubt if he will get a bicycle, if he really wanted a bicycle, he would mention that fact from time to time and, as Christmas approached, it would become a regular topic of conversation. When you ask God for something, he can read your heart, and know whether you really want what you ask.
There are many instances in the gospel where people brought their sick to Jesus to have them healed. The centurion came for his servant, who was too ill to travel. Jairus came for his daughter, and the woman in today’s gospel came for her daughter, as well. It is certainly a strong lesson about how our prayers of intercession can benefit others. I know one lady who said a Rosary every single day for twenty-three years for a brother of hers who was an alcoholic. The most impressive part of this is that her brother, who is now sober, has never known this, and is still not aware of it. Praying for others can be real love in action We live in a world of “quick fix,” of instant cameras, and of global communication at the push of a button. We cannot approach prayer of intercession in that way. There must be an element of perseverance in our prayer. “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” How often I fail to find a lost object on my first search. I begin again,and I retrace my steps, and look for areas I may have overlooked first time around. The depth and length, and thoroughness of my search depends on how precious the object I have lost. I have spent hours searching for something, and I have experienced the joy of finding. If I approached prayers of petition in this way, I certainly stand a much better chance of getting an answer.
Most of us have learned to live with “automated answering services” now as a necessary part of our daily lives. But have you ever wondered what it would be like if God decided to install voice mail? Imagine praying and hearing the following:
Thank you for calling heaven.
Please select one of the following options:
Press 1 for Requests
Press 2 for Thanksgiving
Press 3 for Complaints
Press 4 for all other inquiries
I am sorry, all of our angels and saints are busy helping other sinners right now. However, your prayer is important to us and we will answer it in the order it was received. Please stay on the line.
If you would like to speak to:
God the Father, Press 1;
For Jesus, Press 2;
For the Holy Spirit, Press 3
If you would like to hear King David sing a Psalm while you are holding, Press 4
To find a loved one that has been assigned to heaven, Press 5, then enter his or her social security number (PRSI), followed by the pound sign. (If you receive a negative response, please hang up and try area code 666.)
For reservations at heaven, please enter J-0-H-N followed by the numbers 3-16.
For answers to nagging questions about dinosaurs, the age of the earth, life on other planets, and where Noah’s Ark is, please wait until you arrive.
Our computers show that you have already prayed today. Please hang up and try again tomorrow. This office is now closed for the weekend to observe a religious holiday. Please pray again on Monday, after 9:30 am.
If you are calling after hours and need emergency assistance, please contact your local parish priest.
First Reading: Isaiah 66:1, 6-7
Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, dealing retribution to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.
Second Reading: Romans 11:13ff
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.