When we are backed into a corner, it helps to know which hand to bring us out

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HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 56:1,6-7/Rom. 11:13-15,29,32

Psalm:  67:2-3,5,6,8

Gospel:  Mt. 15:21-28

 

When we feel as if we have been backed into a corner, we seem to reach for something or someone that we think can help us, but more times than not, they are only there to help themselves.  Whether it be a person or a group or even a church, the risk for one to lord over another is great.  It causes the group to feel exclusive, or privileged or even prejudiced over all others who think they should belong but for one reason or another, would be considered “unworthy” of their time and energy.

And what of those who keeps being told that they are “unworthy?”  They are people, with just as much pride and dignity as those who tell them otherwise.  They have feelings and emotions and dreams and goals for them to better themselves and those that they love.  So, for a person to be told time and time and time again that they do not belong, or they are the wrong heritage, or the wrong gender, it starts to become second nature.  The more a person hears that negativity, the more they will begin to believe it themselves and will behave in that way for the better part of their lives. Their identity and their dignity were handed over to someone else for them to control.

During the time that Jesus was in the world, there were similar arguments over the various groups in Israel.  Since God chose the Jews for his own, obviously they believed they were better than everyone else, and how they acted within their group.  Jesus had dealt with Pharisees and Sadducees and Samarians and, to some extent, even the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem.  Each one was held to some disdain by the Jews because they did not follow the Law of Moses in the way the Jews did.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, the group that is looked down upon is the Canaanites.  This was a group that was descended from Canaan, son of Ham and grandson of Noah.  The Canaanites, while devoted to God, were forever cursed to live a life of slavery for Ham’s sins against Noah. This was the group that had occupied the Promised Land while the Hebrews were in Egypt.  When Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, they were given that land by God, who helped them defeat the Canaanites and claim their birthright.  From then on, the Canaanites were looked upon as sub-human to the Israelites.

The Gospel states that Jesus was met by a Canaanite woman who was pleading for Jesus to remove a demon who had possessed her daughter.  She pleads with him to have pity on her, but she is ignored.  She continues to cry out, and the disciples were asking for Jesus to send her away.  This action of Jesus and his disciples had been described by some Biblical Scholars as one of the most disturbing acts in the Gospels.  Someone is crying for help, and Jesus does nothing.  She calls out to him and identifies him as the Son of David.  He replies in kind that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Jesus had done so many miracles by that time, yet he will not lift a finger to help this woman just because she was a Canaanite?

In the eyes of the disciples, she was not one for whom Jesus is to associate.  She was a Canaanite, and a woman.  That meant she was one of the lowest beings on the planet.  But in Jesus’ eyes, she could be one of the lost sheep of Israel.  Was she someone who was crying out to Jesus because she heard he could perform miracles, or did she believe that he was the Son of God?  Was she reaching out from that corner she and her daughter were in and grabbing any hand that will reach out?  Jesus wanted to be sure.  So, after she pleaded with him once more, Jesus told her “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

To the listener, this may seem shocking and disgusting for Jesus to compare someone to a dog.  But the mention of the dog is very important.  Dogs did not come inside a Jewish home, so in order to feed the dogs, a person had to take the food off the table-“the food of the children”-take it outside to feed the dogs.  The Canaanites, and in fact most Gentile households, the dogs were allowed to come into the house where they could be fed from the table.

So, when Jesus speaks of giving food to the dogs, he was speaking about the Jewish custom and giving food to the outsider.  But to the woman, the food to the dog was for an insider, someone who belonged in the house of God[1].  This confirmed Jesus’ belief in the woman that she had indeed knew who she was reaching toward.  Her daughter was cured and because of her great faith.  She did not see her standing in Jewish eyes as one of an outsider.  She was a child of God, just like any Jew.  Her faith in Christ confirmed that fact.

Whenever we come across a moment where we either act in a way that is above or below someone else, we need to ask ourselves why.  Granted, when we are at work or school or home, there are those we look up to because of their position, and for those in power we have those who look to us because of where we stand.  But that does not mean that they have permission to either lord it over someone or be overly-submissive to another just because of a power that was given but could also be taken away.

We all have to be wary of how power is used.  Abuse of power is the main cause of our difficulties in becoming a true family of God.  Those who are given power must understand that what they have must be used to guide those in their care to be successful.  Likewise, those who are under one with power must do their duties with their peers in the manner given to them.  In this way, both are giving respect and dignity to each other as well as themselves and to God.

We should not feel like we are stuck in a corner reaching out for help.  We are all children of God, one not more important than the other.  We should not look at our faith as a prerequisite for membership but rather a pathway toward unity.  We call upon Christ, like the Canaanite woman, to have pity on us and recognize our belief in Him to grant us His grace.  Our Help is in The Name of the Lord-Who Made Heaven and Earth.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Those who lord power over another is a bully. When have you been bullied? Had anyone ever consider you a bully?

 

  1. If you had heard Jesus speak to the Canaanite woman like he did, what would you have said to him?

 

  1. Had you ever reached out to someone for help? Did they ever use that help for your benefit or for their own?

 

[1] Shea, John. On Earth As it is in Heaven:  The Spritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers   (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2004), p. 254.

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