08Aug 08 August. Wednesday, Week 18

1st Reading: Jeremiah (31:1-7)

Jeremiah foretells the reunion of Israel’s northern tribes with Jerusalem

At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go out in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

Responsorial (from Jeremiah 31)

R./: The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock. (R./)

The Lord shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings. (R./)

Then the young girls will make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (15:21-28)

When Jesus tries to refuse the Canaanite woman, she humbly persists and succeeds

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.


Persistence pays

Hope is the quality of persevering despite negative prospects and long delays, and God’s adjustment to our human responses. God put Israel through a testing process that developed their “desert spirituality” so beautifully expressed by Jeremiah: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unsown. Sacred to the Lord was Israel, the first fruits of his harvest” (Jer 2:2-3). These words are used at the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The final phrase “virgin Israel” continues the nuptial theme, introduced into biblical tradition by the prophet Hosea. Applied to the exiled northern tribes as a young woman gloriously happy at the moment of her marriage, they also envisages the miraculous transformation of the sinful woman Israel into the “virgin daughter.” So hopeful is Jeremiah that he sees God’s achieving what is humanly impossible.

The effect of Jesus on the Canaanite woman is equally transformative. At first he would not even answer her, when his disciples came up and begged him to get rid of her. His first words to her sound very blunt, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The world mission of the church was not yet clearly envisioned… but there are hints that his vision went far beyond that horizon. Jesus’ non-verbal commentary indicates this. His silence shows an unwillingness to reject her request. He did not walk away from the woman but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, by his affirmative response to her plea, Jesus steps beyond his verbal statement into the future outreach of the church, embracing all nations.

The faith of an outsider

The Syro-Phoenician woman shows tenacious faith. The initial response of Jesus to her desperate cry for help was one of silence. When she persisted with her request and Jesus addresses her directly, he seems at first to dismiss her request rather harshly. Just as the woman was not put off by Jesus’ silence, she is not put off by his seemingly harsh refusal. She welcomes the image of feeding the children rather than the dogs, the people of Israel rather than the pagans, and turns it to her own advantage. Eventually Jesus praises her persistent faith and grants her request.

The story suggests that in Jesus’ own time it was too soon to bring the gospel to pagans; that would come later, after his death and resurrection. Yet by her persistent faith in the face of the Lord’s reluctance this woman succeeded in bringing forward that timetable . Jesus spoke at one point of a faith that can move mountains. This woman’s faith certainly moved him. This pagan woman encourages all of us to remain faithful, even when the grounds for faithfulness seem to be very weak. She inspires us to keep seeking the Lord, even when the Lord appears to be silent and distant.

(Saint Dominic, priest)

Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), was a Spanish priest and founder of the Dominican Order. Born in Castile, Spain, he saw the need for a new type of organization to address the spiritual needs of the growing cities of the Middle Ages, one that would combine systematic education with more organizational flexibility than either monastic orders or the secular clergy. In 1217 pope Honorius III granted him authority to found “The Order of Preachers” He is buried in the basilica of San Domenico, Bologna.

One Response

  1. Brian Fahy

    ‘Not one of us’ is a phrase that became associated with Margaret Thatcher who often asked about the political stance of people in the conflictual days of her government. People who are not ‘one of us’ can be downgraded and dismissed and even despised. We like to know who are opponents are and so be able to deride them. Our natural differences of gender, nationality, and religion can be made into reasons for hating people.

    I was an Irish-descent catholic boy growing up in an English protestant town in the days when going into a protestant church was called a sin and only we catholics had the right religion. My playmates at home were protestants and we were great friends, but my religion told me they were on the wrong road. Catholic and Protestant rivalry has been a longstanding issue in the UK. No wonder so many people have no time for religion. It has only caused trouble.

    Jesus and the Canaanite woman have a great witty conversation and for all the differences of race and religion, what emerges at the end is the importance of faith in the goodness of God and the vital need for us all to help one another.