20th Sunday in Ordinary Time A20
One of the inconvenient truths of the Incarnation is that Jesus was born a Jew with all that it entailed. In today’s Gospel passage, we are faced with Jesus and his encounter with a Canaanite woman in which he is acting according to the prejudices and customs of his day. The Canaanites were to be avoided because they worshipped other gods and at first led Jesus’ ancestors astray from the devotion of the one true God; and the custom of not speaking to a woman in public was being breached by her begging for a cure for her daughter. Besides all that, Jesus thought he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. She had 3 strikes against her! But she persisted and taught Jesus a lesson about being more inclusive. Why? Because she had great faith. It’s interesting to see the contrast between last week’s Gospel and this one: Peter being gently chided for having little faith and the Canaanite woman praised for having great faith.
Long before Jesus learned this, the author of the 3rd section of Isaiah was pointing out foreigners were to be included among the worshippers of God “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7). Certainly Paul recognized that truth becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. And so did Peter when he experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit on a man from Caesarea (Acts 11:1-18).
Thank God, for otherwise we who are descendants of all peoples wouldn’t be Catholic Christians today!
Inclusive is an attractive word but so hard to be lived out. We divide ourselves according to race and nationality: for example, Arabs, Chinese, Russian, Sudanese, French, English, Mexican, German to name a few; or, African-American, Polish American, Irish American, Italian American, Native American, etc., etc., etc. We label ourselves and others as liberal or conservative, right or left wing, democrats or republicans, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or Jews, members of the Red Sox Nation or of the Evil Empire. We erect fences, literally or figuratively, to keep others out. We live in gated communities and are trying in the Southwest to build a gated country!
Is this what God wants? Not if you take seriously today’s 1st reading. Not if you read St. Paul. Not if you follow the example of Jesus who, at first as the son of man, was giving into the cultural taboos of his time but finally rejoiced at a sign of faith.
God is all about inclusiveness and living in harmony. God dreams of a day when we all realize there is one family and race called human.
We counter God’s dream by saying “Good fences make good neighbors.” But remember this as well: For every barrier we erect, every fence we build, we not only keep others out, we also keep ourselves in.