20Aug 20 August. 20th Sunday in O. T.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

1st Reading: : Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

The Lord will bring foreigners to worship in Jerusalem

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity,
for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.

Foreigners who have attached themselves to Yahweh
to serve him and to love his name and be his servants ,
all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant,
these I will bring to my holy mountain.
I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.
Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar,
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

2nd Reading: Romans 11:13ff

Eventually Paul’s fellow-Jews will also come to Christ

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 helps a persistent woman and praises her faith

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.

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.


Linking the Readings

(Kieran O’Mahony)
The gospel of the Canaanite woman is intriguing and opens onto issues of inclusion/exclusion on today’s faith community. The key is simple: how can anyone in need of God’s grace be turned away? The “entry conditions” are precisely need and faith, not achievement. As Paul  insists, “there is  now no distinction.” All communities have boundaries, of course, but these should be regularly challenged. Otherwise, we may simply settle for the familiar and become complacent. Even worse, we may fail God’s project in Jesus, open to all.
(For Kieran’s exegetical comments on the Readings, click here)

Jesus belongs to Everyone

(José Antonio Pagola)

A pagan woman takes the initiative to approach Jesus with her request, even though she doesn’t belong to the Jewish people. She’s an upset mother in anguish because her daughter is «tormented by a demon». She comes to Jesus shouting: «Lord, Son of David, take pity on me». Our Lord’s first reaction is surprising, even dismissive. He doesn’t seem to listen to her. In his mind, the hour has not yet come to bring the Good News of God to the pagans. But since the woman keeps insisting, he explains his reluctance: «I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel».

Still the woman doesn’t give up. Prepared to overcome every difficulty and resistance, in a bold gesture she prostrates at Jesus’ feet, stopping him in his tracks, and on her knees she just shouts out: «Lord, help me». Jesus’ response is unusual and rather shocking. Though in that age the Jews called the pagans «dogs» without blinking an eye, his words sound offensive to our ears: «It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs». Taking up his image the quick-witted woman dares to correct him from her point of view: «Ah yes, Lord; but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table».

This woman’s courageous attitude is admirable and points to the future. Surely at the Father’s table everyone can be fed: the children of Israel and also the pagan dogs. At first Jesus seems to be concerned only for the «lost sheep» of Israel… but then she too is a «lost sheep». The One Sent by God cannot belong to the Jews only. Jesus needs to belong to everyone and be for everyone. This he warmly accepts when faced by the woman’s faith.

In the end, the Lord’s response reveals both his humility and his greatness: «Woman, you have great faith! Let your desire be granted». This woman discovers that God’s mercy doesn’t exclude anyone. The Good Father is above the ethnic and religious barriers that we humans have set up. Jesus recognizes the woman as a believer though she lives in a pagan religion. He even finds in her «great faith», not the small faith of his disciples whom he’s more than once calleed «you of little faith». Anyone can come to Jesus confidently. He can recognize people’s faith even if they live outside the Church. They will always find in him a Friend and a Teacher of life. We Christians need to rejoice that even today Jesus keeps drawing so many people who live outside of the Church. Our Lord is bigger than our institutions. He keeps doing much good, even for those who have apparently left off attending church.

Is God’s welcome only for the few?

1. Not a church of pigeonholes: For filing purposes, pigeonholes are splendid. Beaurocrats love tidy compartments where items can be tidily stored, everything in its proper place. Their motto might be: “No surprises and no disorder!” There’s a temptation to think of grace as parcelled out in a similarly neat, orderly way , as something reserved for the God-fearing elect, the People of God. Historically, many of our Jewish forebears adopted this view, and they (and we!) need the universalist message of Isaiah: God wants a house of prayer open to all the nations. Christians need to remember it too: God wills ALL human beings to be saved; in the Father’s house there are many mansions.

2. Blessings of Loss: Our heavenly Father draws people towards Himself in 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 led to his 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 today’s section of his letter to the Romans: “God has imprisoned everyone 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: Why would Jesus 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? She didn’t give up; that’s the first thing. Second, she found the perfect 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 remark about throwing the children’s bread to the dogs? 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, on several occasions the Gospels show him willing to receive 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 the circle: That’s how Christian faith should spread, 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.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, abbot and doctor of the Church

Bernard (1090-1153) from Burgundy in France, was a monk and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order. With several of his brothers, he founded an abbey at Clairvaux which became inspirational for monastic reform in the 12th century. A great biblical student, preacher and devotee of the Virgin Mary, he was advisor to popes and crusaders and sought the unity of Christendom. At the Council of Troyes (1129) he helped to formulate the rule of the Knights Templar, who became the ideal of Christian nobility.

One Response

  1. Kevin Walters

    We see the courageous hope of an outsider approaching in humility one who she perceives as a true man of God.
    And Jesus in His humanity walking in “faith” responds in humility to the “Truth” His own “Essence”, to the truth within her statement, in that she is also a child of God.

    And in doing so illuminates our understanding of His Way, the Path of spiritual growth (Enlightenment) that leads to eternal life. His Path/way is different for all of us but in essence it is the same, as we all walk in our fallen human nature as He did in “faith”, while our intellect is enlighten as our hearts are transformed.
    Is it not our truthful response in humility before His inviolate Word (Truth) that leads us to ‘The way’ that wells up into eternal life?

    Jesus says
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ