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A Reflection On The Sunday Gospel (Matthew ch. 15. 21-28) For 20th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A) By Fr. Isidore Clarke, OP

A Reflection On The Sunday Gospel (Matthew ch. 15. 21-28) For 20th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A) By Fr. Isidore Clarke, OP

Greetings from Fr. Isidore Clarke.Today I'm going to reflect on the Gospel for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (Matthew ch. 15. 21-28).This is about Jesus curing the daughter of the Canaanite woman.

How could Jesus treat this poor woman with such contempt?How could Hecall her a dog?We'd be in serious trouble with the law if we spoke in such a way to people of a different race or religion.We have a right to expect better of Jesus.After all, He was always so welcoming, especially when someone appealed to Him for help, as did this woman.

So, what's going on here?I think Jesus is skilfully turning the contempt the Jews had for pagans on its head.Just before this Gospel extract Jesus had been criticised for not obeying the Jewish laws about ritual cleaning, which were thought to be necessary for us to be pleasing to God. They considered Him to be religiously unclean!Now He is even more provocative.He and His disciples had entered pagan territory, which was thought to be so defiling that a pious Jew would shake the dust off His clothing, as a sign of his contempt for that country and its people.

While Jesus and His disciple sought a bit of peace and quiet, a Canaanite woman cried out. She begged Jesus to cure her sick daughter.Amazingly she, a pagan, believed He had that power! Still more amazingly this pagan addressed Jesus as, 'Lord' and, 'Son of David.'But He ignored her plea for help.Why?As with us, He may delay in answering our prayers, because He wants to teach us perseverance.But the disciples, thinking of themselves, begged Jesus to give her what she wanted, so that they could all get a bit of peace!He responded to their request. That shows the value of praying for each other.

When Jesus did turn to her He told her He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel -not to pagans like her, and that it would not be fair to take the children (of Israel's) food and throw it to the house dogs -the pagans.By calling them 'dogs,' He's again testing her faith in Him almost to breaking point.He's fobbing her off with the traditional insult of calling her and her people dogs.But He does soften this, perhaps with a touch of humour, by using a word meaning, 'house dogs or pets' -not street scavengers.

But Jesus was dealing with a spirited woman! She was fightingfor what was precious to her -her sick daughter. She was smart!She used what would appear to be an insult, to her advantage.She protested thateven the house dogs could eat the scraps which fell from the master's table so could pagans like her.Her conclusion – Jesus had to admit no-one would be a loser -neither the master nor the Jews.

Jesus was not interested in whether or not she observed the laws about ritual washing.No, He admired her perseverance, her deep love for her daughter; above all, He admired her profound faith in Him.And, so, Jesus answered her persistent, loving prayer and healed her daughter.That pagan woman is a shining example for all of us.

In today's episode Jesus has reversed what started out as a traditional offensive, insulting Jewish rejection of a pagan, into welcoming one of them with love.Because His mission would last only a few years He had to concentrate on the lost sheep of Israel. What is more, He must try to convince His people He was fulfilling the promises God had made them – that He was their long-awaited Messiah! From thatpower-base the risen Lord would commission his disciples, "…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," (Matt. 28.19).

In a dramatic way Jesus here makes an exception to confining His personal mission to God's Chosen People, the Jews.Today the Canaanite woman's faith in Jesus anticipates how we, of pagan origin, should respond to Him. 

Fr. Isidore Clarke OP

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