August 17, 2008 Year A
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reflections on the Readings
Theme: Faith in a Foreign Land
The faith of the Canaanite woman demonstrates for us that humility is the way to God.
Upon hearing this Gospel, you may have walked away scratching your head. Salvation history requires us to remember this from St. Paul concerning the Jews:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for evermore. Amen. Romans 9:5
The mission of Jesus and the Church was first 'to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' Those outside of the covenants and the law were viewed as idolatrous. Because of this widespread idolatrous worship, gentiles were described with contemptible words such as 'dogs and swine.' In truth, most of us are the children of the gentiles. We were born 'outside' of the promises and glory of Israel; that is the sonship and the glory. St. Paul illuminates our understanding when he says:
Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumscribed to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (Romans 15:7-9)
Jesus was a stone of stumbling to Israel. Israel stumbled because they did not pursue the righteousness of the law through faith. It was faith Jesus looked for. Jesus had said to Israel, 'You believe in God, believe also in me.' God incarnate, who feeds the multitudes and eats with publicans and sinners, was not how Israel had come to understand the purpose of the law, the covenants, the promises and their worship.
Some outside like this Canaanite woman were stirred deeply and demonstrated great faith and humility. The Centurion for example explained, "I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but say the word only and my son shall be healed." The unnamed woman cries out for mercy for her daughter tormented by a demon. Jesus says it is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs, because it is not right to treat unbelievers as believers. Not all have faith. Many who claim to have faith in Jesus are not faithful. Again, not all have faith.
The gifts and promises of God are not ours because of who we are. The sacraments of the Church are the gifts of God for the people of God. We were once a people who were not a people who are now the people of God. This inspires us to follow the path of the Canaanite woman to say with all humility, "It is true, I am not worthy, but feed me dear Lord, even if I must eat from under the table the crumbs that fall to me."
If Jesus is special and as precious as we have been taught, then it is not the boldness of a haughty spirit that is appropriate. What is acceptable and precious in the eyes of the Lord, is that boldness of humility that seeks not only for ourselves but for all, especially our families, the great Grace of God that drives away the demons and bestows the freedom that befits those who are called the children of God.
As we worship in spirit and in truth, we come to the Table of the Lord in the way a bride seeks to present herself to her groom. The Canaanite woman recognized that Jesus coming to her Gentile countryside was a special moment. The Lord's disciples begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." But Jesus 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." She presented herself in the way that not only spoke of her humility, but of our Lord's holiness. When we open our hearts and our mouths to receive Jesus, it is a special moment as we 'partake of the divine nature' receiving into ourselves the living Lord. This requires a measure of faith. If this has become rote and routine, receive the host on your tongue like a child being fed by its mother. This a demonstration of humility, surrender and trust.
Each of us are in the end 'beggars who have found the bread, sent to tell the other beggars where we found the bread.' It is not the Church that is fortunate to have us. Rather we are the blessed ones who should not boast against the Olive tree. The Israel of God is the Church, who by faith have been grafted into the stump of Jesse. In the final analysis, we did not choose him, but he chose us that we might be gathered out of every kindred and tribe and nation under heaven. This is the missionary mandate of the Church. That all may be gathered into one family, and the great Kingdom of God be the desire of all nations. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, You are the bread come down from heaven. May I always lift up my heart to you. It is a surrendered heart I want to give. In whatever way or thought or attitude I show reluctance, draw me even closer, that I may know you as the one who gives himself for the life of the world. Evermore be unto me the 'bread of life.' Amen.