HOMILY FOR THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: “OH WOMAN, GREAT IS THY FAITH”
BY: Fr. Johnbosco Obika
1st reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
2nd reading: Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28
Last Sunday we saw towards the end of the gospel how Peter, a core Jewish man, was asked by the Lord to come and join him walking on the sea. The moment Peter removed his gaze on Jesus he started to sink, and the Lord called him “Man of little faith”. Today, towards the end of his encounter with the gentile woman Jesus said to her, “You are a woman of great faith”. It is a surprising thing that “little faith” was ascribed to a Jew and “great faith” to a gentile. Jesus came to fall the wall between Jews and gentiles, the included and the excluded, to show that great faith can be found where it is least expected.
When God selected the people of Israel as the chosen race he did so not that they may be locked up in themselves but to extend his salvation to other nations through them.
However, they misconstrued this privileged position from God, taking themselves to be the only ones worthy of God’s mercy, love and grace. They excluded other nations and labeled them gentiles or sinners. Today, God is showing us that those who have faith in him, those who love him and keep his commandments shall receive his salvation irrespective of who people think they are.
In the first reading from the book of Isaiah God shows he is the father of all; he extends his saving hands to all who live righteously, love the Lord, serve him and keep his covenant and laws. God in turn will answer their prayers when they call to him. That is to say that those have faith in the Lord shall see his saving help irrespective of who they are and where they come from. The psalm of today (psalm 67) is linked to this theme as it declares, “Let the peoples praise you oh God, let all the peoples praise you”. The praise of God and the blessings and gladness that accrue from it is not limited to “a people” but to “all the peoples”.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks to the Romans as an apostle of the gentiles, that is, those outside the Abrahamic covenant according to the Jews. They were hitherto outside the mercy of God but are now reconciled to God and justified by their faith in God.
Today’s gospel tells the story of the phenomenal ministry of Jesus outside Jewish territory, beyond the boundaries of the chosen race. Jesus went away and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. By geographical location, this district is about fifty miles away from northern Israel. There is a big religious and cultural gap in between. There came a Canaanite woman, a non Jew, who begged Jesus for mercy in respect of her daughter who was under the grip of the demon. Jesus seemed to snub her and didn’t utter a word to her to the embarrassment of his disciples. Jesus did this to make sure that she merits this request by. Faith is the only thing that makes us worthy of God’s intervention.
Jesus moved on to inspire great faith in her with some delay. The woman pressed further with her request kneeling down. And Jesus stretch further to see how strong and firm was her faith saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. This was a typical Jewish thinking, that Jews were children at the table and gentiles were dogs. By this, he literally called the Canaanite woman a dog. The Jews stereotyped the gentiles as dirty dogs. The dog was a symbol of dishonor and shamelessness used to refer to a wayward woman. Jesus made derogatory comments about in Matthew 7:6 saying, “Do not give to dogs what is holy”. In Revelation 22:15, those who were shut out of the kingdom of God are referred to as dogs. Under this humiliation the woman replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table”. Having seen how great her faith was Jesus replied to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire.” This was followed by the instant healing of her daughter.
Some people suffer segregation due to their past, present or foreseen future life. Some of us have been treated badly by those who should help us like the disciples of Jesus that asked Jesus to send the woman away instead of helping her to Jesus. Some people too are too ashamed of themselves because of mistakes they have made in life. The good news is that God has shown himself to be the Father of all who cares for all. But what do we need to do to merit God’s favour?
1. Courage to approach God. It was rare for a woman to address a Jewish Rabbi publicly, let alone gentile woman. That would demean the prestige of the Rabbi. That was why the disciples of Jesus were sad seeing the woman around Jesus and asked him to dismiss her. The woman crossed every cultural line to achieve her aim. It takes courage approach God in prayer in times of dire distress and moments of despair; even when it seems pointless to pray and seeing that previous efforts put in prayer yielded no result. It takes courage to approach God even when sin has moved us away from the region of grace. People’s opinion about us should not deter us from approaching God.
2. Faith that withstands pressure. Jesus called the Canaanite woman, “woman of great faith” because she withstood the pressures around her and did not give up. Unlike Peter whom Jesus called “Man of little faith” because he couldn’t withstand the pressure from the sea.
3. Don’t give up when the Lord stretches you because persistent faith is result oriented. We often experience delay in answers to our prayers. But being delayed is not being denied.
4. More than crumbs. Are we still expecting crumbs like dogs when the lord has made us not dogs but children of the master? The Lord is offering us not just opportunity to eat the crumbs that falls from the master’s table but the privilege to dine with the master.We separate ourselves from this table when we go back to sin.