20th. Sunday Of Ordinary Time – Year A.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“What Does Catholic Church Mean?”
One of the darker sides of our humanity is our tendency to be exclusive. We build our own little world and heaven help those who disturb it! We also tend to join exclusive groups. New members are only grudgingly accommodated. ‘Catholic’ stands for ‘universal’, that is open to all peoples of the earth.
The first reading tells us that Israel before going into exile was not universal, it was closed in unto itself.
The second reading is well related to this topic because it teaches that salvation is not the result of privileges or because one is a member of a certain people, it is the saving initiative of God to all people that he created.
The Gospel goes deeper into the same theme, and shows what Jesus thinks of how the Christian community should be ready to receive every person.
Guide to ‘Live’ the Sunday Liturgy:
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
If at all possible, share this Bible Reflection time with a family member, a friend or someone you wish to bring to Christ. Jesus said in Mt. 18:20 – “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests, bishops and Catholic theologians who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a
‘Prayer’ are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. With faith and perseverance, we will start to put into practice the Lord’s teachings; begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love, God’s will, and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator. Meditations and Prayer on the Reflections should be done daily – first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
It may be necessary to pray and repeat the study of the Bible Readings and Commentaries more than once, or even on a daily basis, if you feel that you have not yet grasped the Lord’s special message for you.
“In the Old Testament the ‘New’ is hidden.
In the New Testament the ‘Old’ is laid open”.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7.
To many Christians there are two kinds of people: Catholics and non-Catholics who tend to define an outsider in such a ‘black and white’ way. To the orthodox Jewish mind, there are also two kinds of people, Jews and Gentiles. The last chapters of Isaiah are quite bold about this segregation: God can choose the non-chosen people, the foreigner and the Gentile. When God’s salvation comes and divine justice is revealed, the Gentiles will stand in the holy place along with the Jews. This was not good news to Isaiah’s audience! Nor is it good news to many Christians to imagine that non-Christians may one day stand in the holy place with them, equally justified by God’s desire to have ‘a house of prayer for all people’.
For the people of Israel the exile in Babylon was a very bitter and painful experience, but it was also very useful because it helped them mature humanly and religiously. They were forced to stand up and compare themselves with the cultures of other nations and peoples, thus correcting many of their prejudices. They soon found out, for instance, that the pagans were not evil by nature, but often led a very moral life; even their religion was not all falsehood and corruption as it contained certain valuable social precepts. As they returned from exile, the Israelites were no longer the same. The prophet we read about today lived during this period. He has learnt in Babylon to open up his heart to universality, and was now able to detect the positive and good things of the other peoples. He understood that the time had come to drop all the limitations imposed by the book of Deuteronomy.
There shouldn’t be any more barriers between peoples: whatever their tribe, race or nation; they all shared the same right to consider themselves member’s of God’s people. And this is what he promises: a day will come when foreigners honouring God and observing his commandments will be escorted to the Temple of the Lord and they will offer their sacrifices and prayers. Nobody will ever feel a stranger in the house of God. The Temple will be the place for all the peoples of the earth. Every religious group in history and sadly still today tries to define a careful wall between the saved and the damned. But God can, and will, topple that barrier of distinction and separation with a breath.
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8.
The Psalm reflects a similar universalism. Its opening blessing echoes the Jewish blessing in Numbers (6:24), but the praise due to God is to come from all nations. God’s concern is for all.
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32.
In the second reading Paul voices his pleasure in being sent to the Gentiles. Paul realizes that the stubbornness of the Jews in their rejection of Christ has had a positive result: it has led the Christian communities to open up to the pagans. If all the Jews had accepted Christ, what would have happened? With their closed and petty frame of minds and their prejudices they still held towards foreigners, anyone not a Jew would have indeed have found it very difficult to enter the Church.
Paul goes on to say that the refusal to accept Christ by his people will not last forever; the day will come when Israel will also bow to Jesus of Nazareth, and acknowledge him as the Messiah announced by the prophets. What will happen then? Paul seems so full of joy: if their disobedience had such an unexpected happy effect, what will it be like when they all become disciples of Christ? It will be a real resurrection from the dead. What happened to the people of Israel at that time could be easily repeated by the Christians of today. Israel saw themselves as the chosen people of God and they were sure that they could not be stripped of their privileges. Instead their lack of openness to the signs of the salvation of God caused their exclusion from the joy of the Kingdom. This can also happen to us if we close our minds and adopt new and unfounded prejudices.
Matthew 15:21-28 .
In today’s Gospel a non-Jewish woman comes to Jesus to ask him to cure her sick daughter and Jesus seems reluctant. He says that priority must go the Jews. Only when the woman strongly insists does he recognize the extraordinary faith of the woman and heals her daughter.
The reluctance of Jesus appears logical and fits in well with what he had told his disciples. It will only be after his ‘Resurrection’ that he will send his disciples to preach his message all over the world (Mt 28:19-20). In fact, until this point he had not proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom outside of the territory of Israel. Jesus is the Messiah for all nations and his message is for all.
But in the Gospel of Matthew, it is not Jesus who goes to non-Jews. Matthew has them come to Jesus. At his birth it is the wise men from the East who come and proclaim that he is the royal Messiah (Mt 2:1-12). Now it is a non-Jewish woman who comes and proclaims that Jesus is Lord and the Son of David.
The harsh words of Jesus to the Canaanite woman can be interpreted as somewhat insulting but they are meant to bring out her faith and perseverance and to become an example to be imitated. The woman’s brash courage actually ‘converts’ Jesus. Twice in Matthew, Jesus has limited his mission to the sons and daughters of Israel (Mt 10:5-6; 15:24). Yet for her he crosses this self-imposed boundary to bring merciful healing to a Gentile. The woman brings him to the full implications of his mission.
This humble and persevering faith of a simple woman in a foreign land stands out in stark contrast to the lack of faith that Jesus finds among his own people, especially in their leaders. Here is a ‘pagan’ mother proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of David. Even in his own town of Nazareth, Jesus can work no miracles because they lack faith.
Apart from the blind men who recognize Jesus as the Son of David and ask for his help no other character in Matthew’s Gospel acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of David, except this non-Jewish woman. It will only be at his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that the people will acclaim him as the Son of David (Mt 21:9, 15) and in the controversy with the leaders, he will affirm it himself (Mt 22:42).
Their ‘pride’ in being the ‘chosen people’ has made them blind and unable to see in Jesus the promised Messiah, the Son of David. Are we Christians not the same as our Jewish ancestors in our faith? We so easily take it for granted that we are ‘saved’ and assume that our lives are pleasing to God. In reality, God may no longer play any part in our lives and our prayers and Sunday Mass may have become empty routines.
Often the faith and eagerness of our catechumens and of the newly-baptized can be a challenge to those who have been Christians for a long time. Like Jesus, we may even be surprised to find greater faith in people who are not Christians at all. Being members of God’s family for all of our lives, we can become lukewarm and risk God saying to us: ‘You are neither hot nor cold, only ‘lukewarm’. I will spit you out of my mouth’ (Rev 3:16). God’s Christian people, with the help of the Holy Spirit, have resolved the tension between particularity and universality.
The Christian faith is Catholic, that is, universal, addressed to all human beings throughout the world. Each of us is called to participate in the community of faith. Each of us is to be a brother and sister to all other members. Each of us is charged with extending the boundaries of the Church.
The example of the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel is important for us all. God put her to the test and the greatness of her faith shone through. She showed the qualities of love, persistence and humility. Love for her tormented daughter overcame every opposition, obstacle and legal nicety.
Today the deepest meaning of the Gospel is often disclosed by the courage of an ‘outsider’ who is driven by loving concern for innocent victims of disease or injustice. Often they have been met by stony silence or rude rebuff by Jesus’ followers. The ‘great faith’ of this mother, who breaks all boundaries out of love, is a model and a challenge for our time.
Her prayer was humble and uncomplicated, matching her need to God’s mercy. Her Faith and humility knew that one scrap from the Master’s table would be enough.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the
20th. Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year A, we reflect on ….
Sun … One of the darker sides of our humanity is our tendency to be exclusive. We build up our own little world and woe betides those who disturb it! We also favour belonging to exclusive groups and new members are only grudgingly allowed to join. Do we today still hide behind barriers of exclusiveness? God is the exact opposite. God is totally and forever inclusive.
Mon … Isaiah, speaking for God, says this: All who join themselves to the Lord “will be brought to my holy mountain.” Foreigners will be welcome to worship the Lord. The Temple will be a house of prayer not just for the children of Israel, but “for all peoples”. There are no exceptions. All humans are God’s beloved children. If some are not, it’s their decision, not God’s. Isaiah is offering membership to God’s people for all.
Tues … What is at issue here is ‘universalism’ as opposed to ‘particularism’. In the beginning God chose one people for himself. He protected them and guided them and taught them. But this was not to be the final and conclusive arrangement. Those who were outside the chosen people now also have access to God. Nobody will ever feel a stranger in the house of the Lord.
Wed … It is God’s desire to bring all people to the Gospel. In the omitted verses, Paul uses the image of cutting and grafting branches onto an olive tree. Israel had to be cut to make room for the Gentiles. Once the Gentiles were grafted on, the Jews who rejected Jesus would eventually join the tree. Paul’s bottom line to the Romans is this: God is heading in the direction of universal salvation. No group is categorically in or out. Prejudice has no place in the kingdom.
Thurs …In the Gospel, Jesus speaks openly with a pagan woman, who asks him to cure her demon-filled daughter. After being rejected at first, this humble and persevering woman is an example for all of us to imitate. Even Jesus exclaimed, “Woman, you have great faith!”
Frid … The Canaanite woman truly had great faith, a faith that is to be imitated. But she also showed special qualities of love, persistence and humility. Love for her tormented daughter overcame every opposition, obstacle and legal nicety. Her prayer was humble and uncomplicated, matching her need for God’s pity.
Sat … Her faith and humility knew that ‘one scrap’ from the Master’s table would be enough. Let us sincerely try to be just like the Canaanite woman in the way we reverence the Lord and never take him for granted.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we are truly blessed having the opportunity to receive not the scraps from our Master’s table, but the Holy Eucharist whenever we desire it. Lord, we pray that when our faith is put to the test like the Canaanite women, our faith will shine through. May we also share in her qualities of love, persistence and humility. May our prayers also be humble and uncomplicated, matching the pagan woman’s need for God’s love, mercy and compassion. Her Faith and humility knew that one scrap from the Master’s table would be enough.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.