20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014 – Year A
Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
by Most Reverend Arturo Bastes, Bishop of Sorsogon, Philippines
The beautiful gospel has plenty of implications. First, this is the only recorded time that Jesus was in a non-Jewish territory. But most of all, it prophesied a very important doctrine that the gospel would be preached to all the nations, as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading and fulfilled in the second reading during the time of St. Paul, when the gospel was preached to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected Jesus Christ, our Lord. However, St. Paul still had the hope that all the Jews would be converted to Christ someday, because they were the first chosen people of God.
The gospel said, “Jesus withdrew into a pagan territory.” Why did he withdraw? He wanted to have some free time for himself and his apostles, especially because his end was near. He was about to suffer the sufferings of the cross, and was going to teach his disciples that he is a Messiah who is not a political one, but one who would suffer. He needed to be in a lonely place with the disciples. So he went north to Galilee to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan territory. With that, he was free from the hostility of the Pharisees and the Scribes, and from the Jews, because no Jew wanted to go there. When they would come home from a pagan territory, they would “shake off the dust.”
So Jesus withdrew so he would be ready for the final battle. However, even in a foreign land, Jesus was not freed from the demand of human need, because there was a pagan woman whose daughter was afflicted by a demon. The pagan woman heard that Jesus could do miracles and she wanted her daughter to be cured by him. So she followed Jesus and the disciples, desperately crying for his help.
It is interesting that Jesus did not mind her. He snubbed her. And because he snubbed her, the apostles said, “Get rid of her because she is disturbing us!” The reaction of the apostles was not one of compassion. It was the reverse, because they wanted to get rid of someone who was a nuisance to them. Sometimes I am like that, too, when I am disturbed by people when I want to take a siesta. But that is not a Christian reaction. The disciples made the mistake I do. We should always hear people with compassion, especially those who are in need.
There is no doubt that Jesus had compassion for that woman. However, there was a problem. She was a Gentile – a pagan – and not only that, the woman came from Canaan. The Canaanites were the bitterest enemies of the Jews. Our Lord was told to go to the lost sheep of Israel. It was not yet time for him to work for the pagans. There might come a time after his death, but with the twelve disciples, he have limited time, only 3 years. That was the rule of his heavenly father.
But the woman persisted, “Lord, help me!” So the Lord finally addressed her, but somewhat insultingly. He said, “It is not right to give the bread of the children to the dogs” – a very big insult. Calling someone a dog at that time was a terrible insult, and the Jews were quite arrogant. When they encountered a Gentile, they called that Gentile, “Dog,” an Infidel Dog. And later on, they called us “Christian Dogs.”
Why? Because the dogs of that time were the scavengers in the streets – lean, hungry, savage, always diseased. Therefore, that was an insult.
However, we have to remember two things. Sometimes you use a bad word to refer to other people, but if you use it with a different tone and spirit and smiling way, it becomes different. For example, if you suddenly see a friend you haven’t seen for many years, you might say, “You old villain! You old rascal!” He is not a villain or a rascal… you are happy to see him. I have heard when John F. Kennedy was president, he would ask his staff to bring his children by saying, “Where are my rascals?” They were not rascals – but children. So when Jesus said that, maybe he said it with a tone and a smile that was not insulting.
Secondly, when Jesus used that word “dog,” it is not the ordinary dog in Greek, “Kuon.” He used the diminutive “Kunaria.” These are not the dogs that are hungry in the streets, but household pets. Many of you probably have pets in your homes, like Father Sal, who has a nice pet dog, Angel, who will sometimes play the guitar for me. That is the Kunaria. Jesus means that.
And so the woman, who was Greek, was quick to answer our Lord with a sense of humor, “Oh yes, but isn’t it true that the puppies get a share of the scraps that fall from the master’s table?” So the Lord admired how this woman had a great faith. Therefore, the Lord told her a great compliment, “Oh woman! Great is your faith!” Because of that, her daughter was cured.
It is interesting that a pagan woman was praised by the Lord for having great faith. Remember last week the gospel was about St. Peter who tried to walk on the water? And then because he was afraid, he was sinking? And Jesus told him, Peter – the first Pope – “Oh you of little faith!” But the shame – a disciple of Jesus has little faith, but a pagan has a great faith! Now let us analyze this great faith of the woman.
First of all, the woman had love. When she prayed to the Lord, it was not for herself, but for her child, who was suffering. And although she was pagan, she had love for the child, a reflection of God’s love for every one of us. Because of love, she had the courage to go to a stranger. Because of love, she appealed even though Jesus did not answer her. Because of love, she still insisted even though Jesus seemingly insulted her, but saw the smiling face of Jesus. It was love. Now our Lord would cure her, because of love.
Secondly, the woman’s faith was great. It increased. She called Jesus the title, “Son of David.” Son of David is a human political title, popularized by the Jews. They did not know the Son of David would be divine, but a great human being. However, when the woman saw Jesus somewhat different, no he was not just a human being, but divine. And then the woman called Jesus, “Lord! Kyrios! Kyrios means divine.” She was compelled to make an act of faith, and had that very beautiful conversation with Jesus. And because of that, the faith of the woman made her worship our Lord.
She started out by following. She ended up in kneeling down. She started with entreaty, and ended up in prayer. When we pray to the Lord for something, worship him with words; worship his majesty. And only then, tell him your need. The woman had an indomitable faith and hope that her prayer would be heard.
Sometimes when we pray, we are not really convinced that our prayer will be heard. We pray: maybe by chance the Lord will hear me. But the woman was deadly in earnest. She did not consider Jesus as one of her hopes, but the only hope. So when we pray to god with deadly earnest, God will answer us.
So because of her passionate desire that her daughter be cured, she would take no answer from the Lord except that the Lord will hear her.
Finally the woman was cheerful, full of humor. Despite of the fact of her difficulty that her daughter was sick, she managed to smile and also answered the Lord with humor. This is a good lesson for us. Even if you are put in the midst of crisis and difficulty, always manage to smile. A Christian must be a smiling person. A Christian who is pouting is a contradiction in terms.
St. Philip Neri was one of the most joyful saints. One day he was asked by one of his friends, “Father Philip, why are you always happy?” He responded, “All of us must be happy! First of all, God bothered to create us at all!”
We have no right to exist at all, but God bothered to create us. Secondly, God continued to care for us despite of us being idiots. We are idiots because of our sinfulness and disobedience. And third, we are God’s children in baptism. And look at the pagan woman; not even a Christian. She brought to Jesus an audacious love. She brought to Jesus a faith that made her worship him. She brought indomitable hope with cheerfulness. And because of that, she got what she wanted.
All of us, especially Christians, will be heard by Christ, because Christ is telling us God’s love is for us – for all human beings. If you remember that, we are truly members of the Kingdom of God. Amen. God bless all of you.