(Sunday XX OT — A) What Great Faith You Have
- Reading I: Isaiah 56:1.6-7
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67
- Reading II: Romans 11:13-15.29-32
- Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28
The story about the Canaanite woman can be taken in two ways. In the Catechism it is taken as an example of a prayer that derives from faith. The woman’s prayer, "Lord help me!" echoes the one of Peter as he sinks in the sea, "Lord save me!" (2616). What makes the Canaanite woman special is her great faith. It is from that faith that she expresses her prayer. The second way — also found in the Catechism (2610) — is about the "great faith" of the woman as opposed to the "little faith" of Peter and the disciples.
There are only two people in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus commends for their faith: this Canaanite woman, and the Roman centurion whose words we have modified for use in the Mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you in my house, but only say the word and my servant will be healed."
The Canaanite woman crosses the boundaries that separate the Holy Land from the lands of the Gentiles. One wonders, from whom did she know about Jesus? She calls him "Lord". Did she hear about him from the people of Tyre and Sidon who have seen him work? The thing is, she, despite being rebuffed by the silence of the Lord, continued to follow him, calling him, waiting for the moment that he’d turn around and accede to her plea. Where did this "faith" — this trust that the Lord will turn around to pay her attention — come from?
"No one comes to me unless the Father draws him", Jesus says in the Gospel of John. When the people of Samaria heeded the voice of a woman who met Jesus by Jacob’s well (John 4), what made them come? Was it the voice of the woman who has been hiding her way of life from them by drawing from the well in private and not socializing as other women would? Or was it something else that was released through the woman’s voice — the Father calling them from within and drawing them to His Son?
Today’s liturgy favors the second way of understanding the story of the Canaanite woman. It is about faith in the Lord that in a mysterious way has been "sown" even in places where the Church’s missionary presence has not been fully established. Paul may have been called by the angel guardian of Macedonia to work in that province. But when Paul did go there, he met the Thessalonians and the Philippians who immediately became his collaborators in the proclamation of the gospel. Or one can think of the way Christianity spread in the Philippines through the work of a handful of religious missionaries. Was Christianity imposed in the islands through the sword? That would indeed be a funny assumption. If Christianity were imposed through the sword, how come the missionaries were protected in their work not by the Spaniards — who were few in number — but by the natives themselves? The big island of Mindanao down south was already Moslem when the Jesuits went there and yet this group was still able to create pockets of Christian communities there, albeit augmented at a later time by migrations coming from the more Christian localities. The mystery here is that when people heard the gospel, they turned to the Lord!
Paul, in the second reading concludes his meditation on what has happened to the Jews with respect to the Gospel by declaring the hope that by his ministry, the Jews will still one day recognize the Lord. They have been called — and their call is irrevocable, just as the covenant with the Fathers. By the disobedience of the Jews, Paul says, Gentiles have been reconciled. So now, by receiving God’s mercy, the Gentiles may now become the occassion for the Jews to also receive God’s mercy. In a mysterious way, even through the "disobedience" of all, God will still make his mercy felt by all.
Finally, in the first reading, the prophecy from Isaiah 56 of the recognition made by God to the foreigners among the Israelites who observe the covenant is highlighted. In fact, the original plan is that through Abraham’s faith all the nations will be blessed by God. So even though God chose one people, Israel, His plan is intended to be "catholic", that is, meant to cover the whole earth, so that His Temple may truly become "a house of prayer for all nations."
Psalm 67, used for the responsory, was originally a prayer for a good harvest. God is asked to grant a rich harvest so that even the peoples surrounding Israel may know how much God cares for His people. Read in today’s liturgy, the "rich harvest" can be understood in the sense of John 4 — a harvest of peoples — so that even thanksgiving from among the Gentiles may rise up to God.
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