20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)



Matthew 15: 21-28                                                            August 20, 2017

“A Canaanite woman of that district called out, Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David (…) O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

When I was working in a mission with two different ethnic groups in the Amazon, I overheard a conversation between an indigenous father and his young son inside their Huitoto maloca. The Huitoto ethnic group and the Boras were enemies in the past. Even today they distrust each other, and the Huitotos claim that the Boras were dangerous and their ancestors were anthropophagus. The father, who was a taita, or chief, was a noble and righteous leader. His son asked him if he could go hunting with his new Bora friend. The taita said, “No way, you cannot get involved with such a wild people.” This conversation happened to be in front of a large group of the tribe. The young kid immediately responded, “Father, you have educated us not to be prejudice.” The father hugged his son and spoke for the whole assembly, “This is what I wanted my whole people to hear, not to be prejudice, and accept the Bora people as our brothers and sisters.”

If we wonder why Jews and Palestinians today dislike each other, to the point of war, violence, and death, we only need to take a look at the time of Jesus and find out that this hatred does not come by surprise; they even called each other “dogs.” There was bitterness between these two groups, Jews and Gentile converts, in the early Church. The Judaizers, or Jewish Christians, demanded that the Christians that came from the Gentiles had to become Jewish, and follow the Law of Moses and their traditions. The Gentiles and the early Church believed that Christianity was not a Jewish sect, but a new way of life. Jesus extended his invitation to everyone, Jew and Gentile, without distinction, to be God´s children.

In the Book of Isaiah we read today, that when the Israelites returned to their homeland, after the Babylonian exile, they found their territory occupied by Gentile foreigners. Instead of expelling them from their home, they were asked by Isaiah, speaking in God´s name, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord (…) them I will bring to my holy mountain, and make joyful in my house of prayer (…) for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

We hear from Jesus today a double lesson: the persistence of prayer, and the universalism of salvation. A Gentile woman, a Canaanite, approached Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter. At the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus had thought his disciples to be compassionate with the people who were hungry and told them to give the people some food themselves.

Then at this time the disciples asked Jesus to get rid of the woman, and we might be shock to hear such a striking attitude from Jesus. First he does not answer a word, then he said that he had been sent only to the Israelites; after the humble woman begged, “Lord, help me,” he said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman does not take “no” as a last word, she goes even further in her humbleness, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus give a positive response to the lowly woman´s plead of faith.

The apparent coldness of Jesus, and the cruelty of his words are an echo of the Jewish way of behaving, who did not want anything to do with the Gentiles and considered them as dogs. Evidently the intention of Jesus´ words was to make his disciples aware of how inappropriate it is to be prejudiced, racist, xenophobic, and also rude with women. And racism is not only a matter of skin color, it also includes culture, religion, opinion, excluding nationalism, and elitism.

In the Letter to the Romans Paul shows us that faith is that links the people of God together, surpassing all boundaries that separate us. For us Christians, as well as it was for the Jews, the Canaanite woman is a prophetic guide of faith, humility, and acceptance. What could have been worse as a model to a self-righteous Jew, than a Canaanite person well-known for its idolatry and human sacrifices, plus being an unclean foreigner, and in fact a woman? But it is this woman´s faith that wins Jesus over. At this Eucharist today, Christ makes us one, and enables us to accept and love each other.

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