20 Sunday of the Year A
Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The Jews in the Old Testament regarded all those who had no Jewish blood as gentiles and pagans. Even though those who had Jewish blood, but if they acquired bad foreign customs, they were still considered as pagans. However, the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon, considered as a gentile and a pagan, was not afraid to come to Jesus and ask him to heal her daughter possessed by a demon.
Jesus' disciples wanted her to go away because she was annoying them. Perhaps to test her faith, even Jesus himself tried to put obstacles to her faith, saying that his mission was: Only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15: 24). That means his mission was not for the gentiles, like her, but for his own chosen people. At first, Jesus was not only silent and indifferent to her, but also used the language of the time, referring to her people as dogs when he said: It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs (v.26). At that time, people of the Near East referred to one another using figures of speech. That is why the Jews called non-Jews dogs. The term dog did not imply an insult in the Aramaic language at the time of Jesus as it does to us.
The woman cleverly replied using the same play of words that Jesus had used: Yes, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters (v. 27). Her response means that she is willing to recognize the priority of the Jews in receiving the saving grace and humble to take what the children reject, that is to accept any small favor from Jesus. Seeing her humility and strong faith, Jesus said to her: O woman great is your faith and granted her request (v. 28). Even her daughter was not present, she recovered that very moment. By granting the favor to the Canaanite woman, to the pagan centurion, and to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the disciples were able to see Jesus' mission beyond one nation, one race and one chosen people.
Before these events, the mission of the Messiah was understood as to teach and heal his chosen people. Why did he have to choose one nation to be his own? God chose one nation as this own as to test them, purify them and to show them his way and teach them how to live as his chosen people. Throughout the history of the Old Testament, many times God’s chosen people were unfaithful to Him. They abandoned their God in order to worship alien gods. However, when they were sorry and repented their sins, God was ready to forgive them.
Paul is a devout Jewish member even to the fanatic point. As a jealous Jew, he asked the court's order to go to Damascus to persecute Christians. When he received the gift of conversion, Paul began to preach the Gospel to the Jews with new enthusiasm. Only when the Jews rejected the gospel message, then Paul turned his preaching to the gentiles as we learn from his letter to the Romans today (Rom 11:31). The story of faith of the Canaanite woman should give us a lesson of faith. She overcame obstacles put on her way by the apostles and even by Jesus. Jesus' initial word of denial to the woman was only a way to put her faith to the test.
In order to come to God, we need to have the determined faith of the Roman centurion. He showed his faith by not daring to ask Jesus to come to his home, but by only saying one word and his servant would be healed (Mt 8:5-13). To come to Jesus, we need to be reasonable and accept the truth as the Samaritan woman did. The Samaritan woman at first was close-minded and tough when she met Jesus. However, she knew how to yield to reason and accepted the truth about herself even when it hurt (Gn 4:7-42).
Before baaptism, we were considered as gentiles, foreigners, and pagans like the Canaanite woman, the pagan centurion, and the Samaritan woman. Now, by accepting faith in Jesus Christ through baptism, and by following his way, we have become God's new chosen people. That is what the Prophet Isaiah envisioned centuries ago, even before Christ.
The reading from the Book of Isaiah today tells us: The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants ... then I will bring to my holy mountain (Is 56:6-7). This prophecy means those who want to believe in God, worship him, serve him, and become his People, God will bring them to the holy mountain of his kingdom.
A prayer for receiving God’s saving grace:
O Lord our God, giver of all good gifts.
Teach me how to open my heart to welcome your saving grace.
Give me a humble heart, a perseverant faith
of the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman
so that your grace may touch my soul.
Give me a heart that knows right from wrong,
how to accept the truth about myself: good point and bad
of the Samaritan woman
so that your grace can transform and change my heart. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong