20th Sunday Ordinary Time A

So They Laughed

Alexander Graham Bell began making experiments when he was a child, often to the great amusement of his parents. Once when visitors came to call his father told them: “Alexander is in the kitchen. His mother gave him a glass of water, and he put a piece of wire in it. He thinks he’s talking through it.” Everybody laughed.

Somehow, people are always amused at the new and the different. Respect for inventors and discoverers is hard won. Yet, in the cases of those who have proved their point, the scoffers have served the unexpected purpose of adding a deeper incentive for the ridiculed person to succeed.

Those who work conscientiously to serve God, even when it means departure from the beaten tracks, are usually regarded as “strange” to say the least. If the dictates of your heart and conscience have led you into some “different” activities, don’t permit the “wet blankets” to discourage you. Remember that Our Lord was continually being mocked and discounted.

“Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q. 489: Did Jesus really intend to “insult” the pagan woman by implying that she was no better than a “dog” in today’s gospel?

Did you ever wonder why there are only two stories in scripture where Jesus complimented individuals for their “great faith”? Here is the surprise element: neither one was a Jewish person! One was a man (a Roman centurion) and the other was a pagan woman (a Canaanite). In today’s story from Matthew 15:21-28, a Canaanite mother is described as pleading with Jesus to cure her daughter who seems to be possessed by a demon. Since Jesus’ primary ministry was to the House of Israel, he slips into one of the idioms of the day – really a negative stereotype – to point out that fact to the woman. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Today we might think that is terribly harsh; but we forget our own use of stereotypes or clichés that sound harsh to other cultures. For example: Catholics were oftentimes called “mackerel snappers”; northerners were called “damn Yankees” or “carpetbaggers” by those in the deep south; Jewish merchants were stereotyped as greedy (cf. Shakespeare’s character “Shylock”); and the list goes on. Some name-calling was very rude; at other times it was simply cultural banter. The culture that Jesus lived in was no exception.

However, Jesus recognizes the woman’s quickness to reply “in kind.” Picking up on the food metaphor, she uses it herself to prove a point: there is plenty of food to go around, even for dogs. However, like Jesus, she was not referring to nutrition, nor to animals. She was referring metaphorically to the power that Jesus possessed to heal, and to the needs of her daughter. Jesus perceived her correct insight, and granted her request because of her “great” faith.

We can draw an excellent lesson from this exchange between Jesus and the woman. It is this: don’t put Jesus in a box about what he can’t or won’t do. If you have a need, take it to him. He alone is worthy, but he reads our hearts and responds accordingly. Have faith!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The woman in today’s gospel recognized in Jesus the messianic power attributed to the awaited “Son of David” (CCC #439). If you truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then trust him and fashion your prayer requests accordingly (CCC #2610).

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Son of David, Have Pity on Me.

Isaiah tells us that the Kingdom of God is meant for all peoples and St. Paul reminds us that God wills the salvation of both Jew and Gentile and that he himself has been called to bring that salvation to unbelievers. So we are a bit shocked at the harsh response of Jesus to the Canaanite woman’s request But her faith is so great that she still trusts in Jesus’ good will and she reaps the fruit of her faith.

Lord, teach us to have faith your love and goodness even when everything seems to go wrong, when he doesn’t seem to hear us. Help us to persevere when we seem to get nowhere.

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