Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

I thank you for having me here with you today and letting me celebrate with you. But, oh my, why did I get to preach on one of the most unflattering Jesus stories in the New Testament? Jesus seems so cruel here, doesn’t he? In modern terms we could picture Jesus walking down a downtown street and some poor Middle Eastern woman begging for food and Jesus looking at her and saying, “We collect our food for Christians, not for dogs like you!”. Can this be our Jesus! Our meek and mild Jesus? Our good shepherd? Let’s look at this a little more carefully.)

As you may have figured out by now, in the last few weeks the readings have been looking at the concept of “faith” and what it means in our lives. In today’s Gospel we see that having faith can even change the mind of God.

Jesus’ mission, by his own admission, is to redeem the Jews. He states this clearly and simply. That is the reason he seems so cold and uncaring to the Gentile woman who asks for his help. It is unusual for us to see a picture of Jesus that seems that  closed and uncaring. Perhaps Jesus is making this statement so that the Apostles can witness his change of heart, so that they too, later, will spread the Gospel to the non-Jews. Nevertheless, in this Gospel passage today, Jesus seems unwilling to help the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

The woman’s belief and faith in Jesus is so great, however, that she will not let him say no. She even lowers herself in order to make a point to Jesus. She picks up on his shocking metaphor in which Jesus calls her nothing more than an animal – a dog, and turns it around – almost making a joke of it. And Jesus does indeed recognize her faith, he gets the joke, and as a reward for her cleverness and belief and faith in him, he cures the woman’s daughter. She becomes an example to the Apostles of how faith can be a part of the Gentile experience of Jesus as well.

How many of us are willing to debase ourselves in order to prove our faith? What do we do to show Jesus our belief in him? How deep is our faith?

It is really through faith like this, through role models like this woman that the movement of the Christian faith spread to the Gentile world and the Apostles accepted it. Isaiah, of course, predicted it. In the first reading today Isaiah states very clearly that foreigners will be accepted at God’s altar, if they embrace the faith of Abraham’s Lord.

In Genesis we learned that God chose Abraham and his descendants to make a covenant with them. A covenant is not like a contract between two equals, but is a gift of a superior to an inferior. They may have not done anything to merit the gift of the covenant, but the giver promises certain things, in this case God who makes Abraham his friend, promises him descendants, promises him land. In return, the giver may require things of the other party. If we wonder why God chose one particular people and not others, we miss the point of Isaiah today that the Jews were picked in order to bring the one true God to other nations, rather like a man who brings a delicious treat home to his three children, and instead of breaking it up and giving it to all three, gives it to the oldest one and asks him to share it with the others. That is why Isaiah can have God say that his “house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

Even the psalm today, Psalm 67,  stresses the far reaching influence of God through the Jewish faith. “Let all the peoples praise you!”  and “You guide the nations upon earth.” “Let all the ends of the earth revere him”. So, even though we talk about the covenant between God and the Jews, we can see from the beginning that it was meant to be shared.

St. Paul thoroughly embraced the idea that the Judean Christian faith must be brought to other nations. He sees himself not just as an Apostle, but as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul has realized, and is saddened, by the fact that his own people, the people God chose, have not accepted Jesus as Messiah, and so he says he “glorifies” his ministry to the Gentiles, he makes it seem more important, to shame the Jews, to make them jealous, to save them. The fact that so many of them  have rejected Jesus has allowed the Gospel to be opened up to Gentiles, and so unwittingly, the Jews have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and brought the one true God to all the nations. But Paul is still saddened by the fact and wants to find ways to bring about the acceptance of Jesus by the Jews. Right now he sees them as being dead, and he wants to bring them life.

What can we take with us from the readings this morning? First of all, acceptance. All people are called, all people are invited, and we need to accept all people. Our goal as Christians should be to encourage all people to see the model Jesus provides, and through him come to the Father.

Secondly, we need to work on our faith in Jesus. Over the last few weeks we have learned from the readings that faith needs to be practiced, faith means letting go and trusting, faith means concern for others more than for ourselves. The Canaanite woman had such faith in Jesus’ ability to cure her daughter that she was willing to not give up in her attempts to communicate with Jesus, but even to lower herself to prove her faithfulness. Can we move from our comfortable lives and visit the sick, the jailed, those living on the street – put aside our prejudices and let Jesus work through us. These are all challenges presented in the study of faith that we have been seeing over the last three weeks, and certainly they provide challenges to our own lives as well. For those of us we do these things, and I know you have many such things going on (at St. Charles), your faith can be a beacon of light that shines out to others, and maybe others can be jealous enough of your successes to find Jesus themselves as Paul hopes the Jewish people might.

And this is the Good News of faith in Jesus that the readings inspire in us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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