Bulletin: August 16, 2020
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our Lectionary readings today invite us to consider both the human tendency to build boundaries between people, and God’s tendency to cross and even to break these boundaries. Isaiah and Paul speak of God’s ongoing desire to bring all of humanity under divine care. The scene in Matthew’s Gospel alludes to the long-standing distrust between foreigners and the Jewish people. Though Jesus initially resists, he then celebrates the faith of the Canaanite woman and heals her daughter. Those who are given the gift of faith can be tempted to believe that God is present only to them, implicitly creating barriers against others. But the gift of faith is meant to serve God’s larger purpose, so that everyone might be united with God. By his act of healing, Jesus breaks the boundary between Jew and Gentile, and invites both to be a part of God’s people.
Matthew opens the scene in today’s Gospel by setting up a conflict. Unlike the parallel story in Mark (7:24), the woman is described as “a Canaanite.” This label serves to evoke the ancient animosity between Jews and other peoples in the region. The woman, who is never named, begs for help for her daughter. The disciples are actively dismissive of her, as a woman and a foreigner, and deem her to be unworthy of their attention. The text suggests that Jesus initially sided with the disciples. But then he recognized the strength of her faith.
Many women, foreigners, or marginalized persons might identify with this woman’s story. Sometimes faith means standing fast, in care for others or in fidelity to truth, even when it seems that no one supports you. Somehow, the woman recognized God’s power and God’s care within Jesus. And Jesus recognized that God was active within her, manifested in her commitment to her daughter. Jesus saw his Father’s larger horizon of care for everyone, Jew and Gentile, within this faith-filled woman.
A NEW TEMPLE
Isaiah articulates the vision that it is God’s deep desire that all human beings will respond to God in prayer and thanksgiving. God will summon everyone to “my holy mountain,” that is, the temple Mount. The temple was the primary symbol of God’s presence among the people. The Temple was where communal worship and sacrifice took place. Worship served to give thanks for God’s blessings on the people. Sacrifice served to help heal relationships between God and Israel, and within the community, when sin had damaged or broken them.
The early church reflected upon this vision and saw Jesus as a new temple. The person of Jesus is to be worshiped as God’s active presence within human life. Jesus is to be worshiped in prayer and thanksgiving, and Jesus is where relationships are healed and renewed. In Jesus, God invites the whole world into God’s loving care.