HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: THE FAITH OF THE CANAANITE WOMAN.
BY: Fr Justin Chima Obijuru.
R.1: Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7
R.2: Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32
Gospel: Matthew 15: 21-28
Introduction: What is the faith of the Canaanite woman? A search for Christian unity? The faith of the Canaanite woman is a clear prototype of the unusual appeal to the Church to cut through barriers of tradition and convention and open its doors to outcasts, beggars, and marginal christians. The faith of the Canaanite woman is the faith of the contrite sinner. Such contrition prompted the miracle wrought on her daughter. This helps us to broaden the understanding that membership of Israel depends not on physical or ritual matters, but on obedience. These criteria are of moral and spiritual, neither social nor political or racial. God’s grace is open to all, without any stereotypical restrictions. It makes me to reason along that righteousness is at the heart of God, no matter the race, gender, color, achievements, or pathological self-absorptions, etc. It gives more insight into the spirit of aggiornamento made by Pope John XXIII in the late 1950s, as he bared his mind to convene the Second Vatican Council on 25 January, 1959. In essence, the faith of the Canaanite woman is a search for Christian unity.
The faith of the Canaanite woman is an extrapolation for St. Paul to make us understand that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3: 28-29). This is the new Israel, gathered from the ends of the earth. It embraces Gentiles and the “wealth of the nations” (Isaiah 61:6; 66: 12) as well. Lumen gentium 16 states it more directly: “God is not far from anyone who seeks Him in shadows and images, because it is He who gives life, breath and all else and He is the Savior who wants to save all humans.” This faith can very well be your own expression.
Homily Starter Anecdote: Don’t Take No for An Answer: If you believe in yourself keep going towards your goal. The story of Saint John Mary Vianney recalls how after much toil and trouble, he became a priest. At the age of 20, he was having great difficulty in his studies for the priesthood. In his assignment as Parish priest of Ars, St. John Vianney achieved something which many priests would like to have done, but which is scarcely granted to any. Not over night, but little by little, the tiny hamlet underwent a change.
Scripture Lessons Summarized: (a) The first reading today from the book of the Prophet Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7 is a wonderful juxtaposition of the two themes of “justice” and “righteousness”. These themes are seen as the symptoms of the new age. These ushered in three oracles which followed the usual formula of “thus says the Lord”. The first were contained in vv. 4-5 (though skipped), which made a description of eunuchs as including women, lepers and other outcasts.
Excluded from Israel by the law (Ex 12: 43; Deut 23: 1, 3, 7-8), as the foreigners have been afraid of apartheid, and the eunuchs afraid of ritual impurity which prevents them from entering the Temple area, they will find in the coming of Christ the removal of such exclusions. For the eunuchs, even though they had served in the palace during their captivity, they would be acceptable to God, if they had kept the Sabbath in their hearts. They are like everyone else. They will be saved, because they have had faith and accepted the covenant of God. They are told that membership of Israel depends not on physical or ritual matters, but on obedience.
(b) Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32, Paul addresses his gentile readers directly, cautioning them against pride. Some gentile converts looked disdainful upon Israel, as though they had replaced the covenant people in the age of the Messiah. Paul not only rejects this, he warns that gentiles, too, can be rejected as easily as they have been accepted. I so much love the verse 32 that tells us that God allows all to sin that all might taste salvation. His saving plan moves forward despite man’s rebellion.
(c) The Gospel according to Matthew 15: 21-28 takes us to Jesus ministry beyond Galilee. The regions of Tyre and Sidon were gentile cities in Phoenicia, north of Palestine. According to the table of nations in Gen 10: 15, Sidon was the first-born of Canaan, and thus the woman was a “Canaanite” (15: 22). When Jesus made allusion to the Children’s bread, he meant to say Israel and its inherited right to God’s blessings. By dogs, alongside swine, was a derogatory Jewish epithet for pagans (Matt 7: 6). Dogs were generally undomesticated in Jewish culture, and most were stray scavengers. Morally, the Canaanite woman signifies repentant souls. Incapable of boasting, contrite sinners lean wholly on God’s mercy; they recognize their weakness before God and can only beg for blessings, unable to demand from God gifts that He freely bestows. Only the humble and faith-filled are rewarded with spiritual healing. Jesus draws faith out from the Canaanite woman (22-28a). Putting stumbling blocks on her way, the woman perseveringly responded with faith to step over them.
Exegetical Notes: Let us consider the state of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15: 22. Truly, it is the proper emblem of the state of a sinner, deeply conscious of the misery of his soul. When she said “Have mercy on me” (v. 22), it reminds us of a proper prayer for a penitent. We can also derive many Excellencies from it: (i) It is short, (ii) humble, (iii) full of faith, (iv) fervent, (v) modest, (vi) respectful, (vii) rational, (viii) relying only on the mercy of God, (ix) persevering. As Jesus reiterated that He was sent but to the lost sheep of Israel (v. 24), He still had to search out to help a lost world. In the same vein, the Church zealously seeks the salvation of the lost world in Her exercise of her ministry.
Conclusion: The hindrances thrown in our way should not act to decrease our faith; rather, they are intended to make our faith increase. Her daughter was made whole. It opens our eyes to understand that persevering faith and prayer are next to unstoppable. We, like the Canaanite woman, being penitent, should look up to Jesus and never be discouraged. As sure as God is in heaven, so surely will He hear and answer us to the eternal salvation of our souls. The Gospel passage also points to the question of timing: God has His own sense of timing with regard to the needs of each one of us.
In today’s Nigeria, where many souls are losing hope in what they believe in, the Church needs to quicken her pace in reassuring many of God’s loving care and providence. May we not lose sense of searching out those who need our help. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. However, righteousness is in God’s heart, no matter the color, race, gender or nationality. But, most often to the contrary, it is the victimhood mentality and narcissism that withhold many, even as derogatory as the epithets, from embracing this unity God provides for us all. May God help us!
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