|by Angela (Lambert) Jendro|
August 19th, 2017; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28 NAB
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, 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.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
The evil of division, prejudice, and animosity between peoples entered the world with original sin. When Adam and Eve introduced a rift between themselves and God, a rift began between the two of them as well. It soon spread to their children Cain and Abel. At the Tower of Babel the rift became complete with the separation of languages.
Some rifts begin with legitimate reasons. A person, family, or community, treats another unjustly and fails to make amends. The victim(s) retaliate to achieve justice for themselves or they separate themselves from the dangerous, unrepentant threat.
Other rifts arise from illegitimate reasons. Prejudice based on sex, race, nationality, disability, religion, or even political positions can cause rifts and violence such as we have seen in the recent news. Whether motivated by envy, greed, or lust for power, the perpetrators have two things in common – they blame someone or some group for their problems and do not value the dignity of every human life.
ISIS’ lust for power at the cost of genocidal murder, human trafficking, abuse of women, and indiscriminate terrorist attacks illustrates the evil of this sin at its worst. They de-humanize groups of people in order to assert their own greedy, and lustful agenda.
In our own country, the bastion for human rights and equality, we too have struggled to maintain our value for all human life. Abortion has been legal for over forty years, marginalizing all persons in the womb. The child will be protected if he or she is wanted, but eliminated if blame can put on the child for any reason, even simple inconvenience. Moreover, the pressure to abort children who may have disabilities dangerously erodes the protection of any person with a disability. The definition of “life support” has become a topic of debate, not just about breathing tubes but even food and water. In the last election, the problem of violent and visceral division between people of differing political views, as well as the ongoing division caused by sexism, surfaced for the world to see. Lastly, the evil of racism reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia with messages of white supremacy and even deadly violence.
In today’s Gospel Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman in a seemingly cold manner. On the surface it seems prejudiced or at the least nationalistic. The Jews and Canaanites had been at odds for centuries. She cries to him for help and He says nothing! He only speaks to her when the apostles beg Him to quiet her down, not for any reason of compassion, but because her persistence had grown annoying. Why would Jesus, who should be above such ethnic and religious animosity, have done this?
Jesus reveals that peace and reconciliation requires repentance and mercy by contrasting the hypocritical faith of some Pharisees, with the repentant faith of the Canaanite woman. The Jews had been entrusted with the supreme gift of God’s divine Revelation. They had the burden and privilege of protecting this gift that they might be a light to rest of the world. In consequence, they had the privilege of receiving the Messiah as children of God, but they also had greater fault whenever they rejected God. In the passage just prior to this one, Jesus rebukes some Pharisees for their hypocritical practice of denying support for their parents by donating the money to the Temple. Their false charity was exposed as actual injustice and a failure to follow the fourth commandment. Jesus goes on to explain that what makes a person defiled is what comes from their heart, not what goes in to their mouth. Thus, religious practices without heartfelt faith do not aid a person.
In contrast, Jesus’ very next encounter is with the Canaanite woman. Whereas she does not belong to the heritage of the Jews, she demonstrates the heartfelt faith that Jesus describes. God had instructed the Jews to remain separate from the Canaanites so as to protect them from being influenced by their evil practices. In Deuteronomy 20:15-18 God warns them to destroy the Canaanites “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.” The Canaanite woman in this passage, acknowledged the pitifulness of her dignity which had been degraded by the immoral acts of her people and likely herself. Nevertheless, her good heart recognized the Savior and pleaded in faith for His mercy. In humility, and absolute trust in Him, she laid before Him her need. She persisted despite being ignored, confident His compassion would win out. When He compared her people to dogs she agreed with Him. She acknowledged the truth of their sins. Sin not only offends God, but it degrades the sinner. Nevertheless, she persisted that His mercy had the power to conquer the evil which plagued her daughter and the suffering that plagued her.
Jesus responds to the authenticity of her heart, exclaiming “O woman, great is your faith!” Her honesty, repentance, and humility opened the door for Christ to shower His mercy upon her and usher in peace and reconciliation.
Sins of division and prejudice need healing. God’s divine laws provide the structure for justice needed for peace. Because of sin however, we can twist those laws to rationalize our sin. Thus, conversion of heart is needed in addition to the conversion of actions. This requires the saving grace of Christ.
|“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him” Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1949|
Christ came to restore the unity of the human family, making us sons and daughters of God by adoption through grace. The Pharisees and the Canaanite woman illustrate our part in His work. We must acknowledge our sin (MUCH easier said than done!), realize our need for Christ, and ask for His mercy. Thankfully, He assures us His answer will always be yes.
Our country and our world need prayer more than ever. This week, let us pray for reconciliation within broken relationships in our own lives and work toward peace within our families and communities, that God might bring reconciliation between peoples opposed to one another throughout the world. May we all recognize the inherent dignity of every human person, called by God to live eternally as His son or daughter.
- Who do you find easy to value? Who is it easy to love and why?
- Who do you struggle to appreciate? Who is most difficult to see as a child of God? Have you experienced or seen prejudice firsthand?
- Consider how sin degrades a person, similar to the way sickness deteriorates a body.
- How does healing and grace resemble medicinal healing? Does it sometimes require distasteful medicine, or even amputation?
- Consider why we must acknowledge sin and the need for help to begin healing. Have you ever known someone who refused to acknowledge they were sick, even though it was apparent to their loved ones? Or, knowing they were sick, refused to see a doctor?
- Imagine yourself as the woman crying out to Jesus. You know you have no right for Him to listen to you because you have rejected God for so many years. Would you be tempted to say nothing out of fear of rejection? Consider the courage it takes for you beg Him for mercy. Imagine His eyes and His voice as He says to you with undeserved graciousness: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Pray for, and work toward, peace with someone. It could be by cultivating more peace in your encounters with your spouse and kids, apologizing and making amends with someone you have hurt or been unjust toward, removing slander or critical personal attacks from your social media and replacing them with positive acknowledgments, removing yourself from contentious and prejudiced conversations among coworkers or neighbors, or making peace with God by going to the Sacrament of Confession.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2017
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