HOMILY FOR TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
HOMILY THEME: GREAT FAITH
BY: Fr Mike Lagrimas
HOMILY: Mt. 15:21-28.
A little girl asked her mother, “Mom, where did the human race come from?” The mother answered, “God created Adam and Eve and they had children. That was how the human race came into being.” The next day the girl asked her dad the same question. The father answered, “Millions of years ago there were monkeys. They gradually evolved into humans.” The girl was confused. So she went back to her mother and asked, “Mom, which is true? You said the human race was created by God, but Dad said we evolved from monkeys?” The mother answered, “Well, my dear, it’s very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”
It has always been said that man is a social being. No man is an island. We always interact with one another – in families and in communities. However, this desire to belong to a group has a strong tendency to become exclusive, and consequently, divisive. We find it difficult to welcome those who do not belong to our group. We oftentimes operate on the basis of our personal biases and culturally established criteria in judging people, as shown in the case of Nathanael: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). This invariably leads to social discrimination and the polarization and fragmentation of society.
Exclusivism, discrimination, social prejudices and divisions are definitely not pleasing in the eyes of God. Indeed, God wants all people to be united in love and harmony for it was He who created them all. That is why He made sure that His house “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:7) so that all nations will praise Him: “O God, may all the peoples praise you” (Ps 67:4). As the Psalmist exclaimed, “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one! Like fine oil on the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:1-2). The Gospel this Sunday teaches us a lesson on unity and fraternal solidarity among all of God’s people. Interestingly, this lesson comes neither from the disciples nor from any member of God’s Chosen People, but from an outsider – a Canaanite woman.
She was not just a pagan. She was a Canaanite. We remember that the Promised Land was originally occupied by the Canaanites. They were pushed out by the Israelites. That is why, since then, the relationship between the Jews and the Canaanites was that of deep animosity. But the woman did not mind that. She mustered all courage to come near Jesus.
Secondly, she was a woman. In the prevailing culture of their society, it was not proper for a woman to speak to a man in public. And she was asking a favor in behalf of her daughter, not a son. Again she did not mind that. Her love for her daughter was overwhelming as to think about all these issues.
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At first, Jesus seemed cold and indifferent: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He even said something, which may have sounded insulting, which again, the woman did not mind. But Jesus did not mean to degrade or malign her. He was simply testing her faith, making sure her faith is pure and strong. And she passed the test! She could not be dissuaded. She truly believed in Jesus. She addressed Him “Lord” (Kyrios), a sublime messianic title. She repeatedly called out, “Lord, help me!” She was persistent, but, at the same time, profoundly humble: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus, who always looks into the heart, praised her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus acted in her favor because of her true faith. She was a Canaanite, but she truly believed in Jesus, unlike the Jews of his time who rejected him. She was a woman, but she had greater faith than Peter who sank in the water because, according to Jesus, he had “little faith”. She was nobody, an unnamed woman, and even a nuisance in the eyes of the disciples; but she was really “great” in the eyes of Jesus. Clearly, then, it is faith, not social or religious affiliation, that unites us to Jesus.
In baptism, we have received the gift of faith, and have become members of the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself. And so we call ourselves Catholics. The word “catholic” means “universal”. The Catholic faith, therefore, means a faith that welcomes everybody as Jesus does. True faith does not discriminate; nor does it divide, nor exclude. True faith always welcomes and unites people. When we have true faith in Jesus, like the Canaanite woman, we do not anymore mind our petty differences, economic standing, group affiliations and cultural backgrounds. We simply belong to Jesus; and so we also belong to one another. That is because when we have true faith in Jesus, we see everything with the eyes of God. In His eyes, we are all His beloved children. The blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for all peoples of all times. Salvation is offered to everybody. For those who accept Jesus in faith, salvation is theirs.
Before going to Holy Communion, we exchange the sign or kiss of peace with one another. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal reminds us: “It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner” (GIRM, 82). This is, therefore, not an occasion to go around, exchanging pleasantries. It is not also the time for the children to go to their parents and grandparents to kiss their hands. Rather, it is a beautiful expression of our unity as members of Christ’s Mystical Body.
A few years back (Aug 03, 2014), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released guidelines on the Rite of the Sign of Peace during Mass. The guidelines pointed out several ‘liturgical missteps’ that are made during the Sign of Peace that should be avoided, including: the singing of a ‘song of peace’, that does not exist in the Roman Rite; the people moving around in order to exchange the sign of peace; the priest leaving the altar to give the greeting of peace to the faithful.
One of the early Church Fathers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, explains the meaning of this practice: “This kiss that all exchange constitutes a kind of profession of unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the kiss of peace to the person next to him, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgment that we have all become the single Body of Christ the Lord and so must preserve with one another that harmony… loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as the concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing one another’s joys.” (Baptismal Homily 4.39) In closing, we pray in the words of the Second Eucharistic Prayer: “Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” Amen.
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