20th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 20 August 2017
Deacon John William McMullen
Gospel: Matthew 15.21-28
he scribes and Pharisees, who are insistent upon telling Jesus how he has got to focus on who’s in and who’s out, who’s clean and who’s unclean in God’s eyes. So many voices shouting him down when He calls for mercy and love.
He leaves the comfort of his home in Galilee, and crosses over the border into the territory of Tyre and Sidon! Greek Syro-Phoenicia.
Jesus is not safe. He’s on the move.
The disciples did not want Jesus going into the wrong neighborhoods or, God forbid, crossing any borders.
And that’s when she showed up - A Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."
A Canaanite woman? The Canaanites were the bane of Israel’s existence!
But, wait. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ own genealogy mentions several Canaanite women. One was Ruth. She married the Hebrew man Boaz. She then became the mother of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of King David. So king David’s grandmother was a Canaanite woman! Ah ha.
The woman says, “Have mercy on ME, but the concern is for her daughter who is tormented by a demon.” How many mothers have children who are tormented by various demons?
Where is Jesus in her desperation? He is silent. This does not mean he doesn’t hear her. He just doesn’t speak. He doesn’t act. Not yet at least.
* The disciples are annoyed by this woman’s prayer. “She’s bothering us! Send her away! Dismiss her! She’s too loud! Just give her what she wants to shut her up, then send her away! Was it because she was a Canaanite woman? Racism? Sexism?
Jesus knew what his disciples were saying and what they were thinking. “She’s too much for us. She’s a mess. Why can’t she be respectable and be a good woman and just be quiet and keep in her place. “Know your place, woman.” We can hear it.
She is disturbing their peace.
But she is calling on Jesus, not them.
Why is it so difficult for some people to allow women or minorities to say what they feel and think and be heard in their own their voice, without their words being distorted or ignored, and their personhood dismissed altogether?
Think of this woman’s courage. I wonder how many other people wanted to call out to Jesus, but didn’t have the courage.
We can hear the voices shouting her down. She’s from a different religious tradition.
Send her away!
Pretty soon all the gentiles will want to follow you and have a share in the kingdom of God.”
She’s a woman of color.
Where’s her husband anyway?
She’s got a demon possessed daughter.
Get her out of here!
Throw her out!
She didn’t send her daughter to Catholic school. She’s not in our women’s bible study.
Why, she isn’t in our parish directory, and she certainly doesn’t have collection envelopes.
Don’t let her kind in here, or else there will be others who will want to come in.
Imagine this woman’s desperation. She will do anything for her daughter.
She casts herself upon the mercy of the Lord only to hear nothing.
But Jesus’ silence and his disciples’ efforts to silence her did not deter her from calling upon the Lord.
Send her away.
But Jesus answers: “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The woman then throws herself down at Jesus’ feet: “Lord, Help Me!”
Jesus answers: “It is not right to throw the food (bread) of the children to the dogs.”
The woman boldly replies: “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps, the crumbs, that fall from the children’s table.”
And Jesus proclaims, “Woman, great is your faith!”
She is humble and admits, “Yes, I am a dog. I confess my guilt. I come from nothing.
But a crumb of your goodness can change my daughter’s life!”
* I wonder if Jesus said, "It is not right to take the food of the children and give it to the dogs" because that's what the disciples were saying, so Jesus allows his disciples to hear what prejudice sounds like.
The woman uses the dog metaphor to her advantage. "...being so bold as to become Jesus' teacher, or at least the disciple’s teacher.”
Did Jesus humble himself and allow her to teach the disciples the nature of mercy?
Did Jesus think, “Well, I‘ve tried to teach them. I’ll allow her to teach the boys a thing or two”?
Regardless, the apostles received a lesson that they would remember for they take the gospel message to the ends of the earth.
“Woman, great is your faith!”
Jesus is challenging all of us who are tempted to cling to a fearful, stingy faith.
Meanwhile the Woman is at the feet of Jesus.
She has cast all of her cares upon the Lord.
“Woman, great is your faith!”
She reminds us of the Roman soldier who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my son shall be healed” (Matthew 8.5-13; John 4.46-54).
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven…” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour [his] servant was healed (Matt. 8.10-11, 13).
So Matthew’s gospel is showing us that Gentile dogs are invited into the kingdom.
Were all like dogs. Aren’t we. We depend totally upon our Master for our daily bread. Woof, woof!
The woman is willing to humble herself, like a dog who eats the scraps, the crumbs that fall from the Father’s table, but the crumbs of bread are bread. She desires to be nourished with the same bread that the children of Abraham eat at the banquet table of God, and these crumbs are a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic feast that we will soon celebrate at this altar.
“Woman, great is your faith!”
But let us reflect on the silence that Jesus gave the woman’s request.
How do we deal with the silence of God?
But what of our own experience of silence when we pray?
And some still hear the words from certain disciples: “Send her away!”
She stands weeping in the rain at the corner of Vann and Covert waiting for the bus to go to a job interview.
She receives communion with tears in her eyes, but then slips away at the end of Mass, feeling ashamed or less than the beautiful parishioners.
She has worn out the beads of her rosary from her constant praying, wearied from weeping in prayer for her child who is addicted to drugs.
She is exhausted from praying for her husband who is lost in pornography or to alcohol – or both.
Others pray as they go through a separation or a divorce;
others are experiencing terminal illness or unemployment.
Still others may have lost a friend over philosophical or political differences;
or a relative may have joined the Ku Klux Klan.
But take heart.
A loved one of so many tears will not be forgotten
– as long as we are at the feet of Jesus.
Lord, help me.
See the Collect for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the previous Sacramentary that was in use from the 1970s until 2011 when it was suppressed by the Promulgation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.
Almighty God, ever-loving Father, your care extends beyond the boundaries of race and nation to the hearts of all who live. May the wall, which prejudice raises between us, crumble beneath the shadow of your outstretched arm.