THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
Texts: Isaiah 56:1,6-7; Romans 11:13-15,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
By Fr. Augustine Agwulonu, OP
The salvation of God extends universally, in Jesus Christ, to all the peoples of the world. From all eternity God wills and designs that all peoples of the world be gathered together in his single and unique house of prayer (the Synagogue of prayer for all nations); in and through his Son Jesus Christ.
This Sunday’s readings focus on the incorporation of Non-Jews into the one flock and one fold of God’s holy people. This demonstrates how God’s mercy and justification touch and affect all the peoples of the world, both Jews and Non-Jews. And so, whoever approaches God, whosoever enters his court with faith and songs of praise will enjoy the salvation of our Lord. And since this salvation has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the Lord does not shut anyone out of the Synagogue of God’s faithful people.
But what does Jesus do in today’s Gospel? Does the Lord attempt to ignore God’s plan of salvation for all the peoples’ of the world? Is Jesus trying to prevent the people of other nations from entering into the Synagogue of prayer, which God has established for all? For a quick answer to all these questions, it should be observed that Matthew exposes a very important teaching of our Lord in today’s Gospel. The Lord is teaching us that whether we pray in the physical synagogues of prayer, which can be found all over the world today, or we pray in the privacy of our rooms and other places, faith remains the determining factor for efficacious and effective prayer. Matthew highlights this point of Jesus’ exposition of the truth in a curious and dramatic manner. But the positive meaning and message has been passed and we do well to receive it pure and simple.
In the Gospel, Jesus said the Canaanite woman: “Oh woman, great is your faith.” The faith that is great depends on quality and not on its measure. Yes, this woman of the Gentile Cana demonstrates this sound faith. She does not sacrifice the health of her daughter on the distraction of a derogatory statement, not even when it comes from Jesus. She does not let the salvation of the Lord to slip away from her and her daughter because of the frivolity of self- and racial pride. I do not want to make excuses for our Lord Jesus Christ. However, it is my joy to interpret the Gospel text of this Sunday. We should observe and commend the faith and humility of the Canaanite woman. She was a worthy and model representative of Non-Jews before the Lord Jesus Christ. She was our true ambassador, who passes as an exemplar for the reception of our share of God’s salvation, which the Lord Jesus Christ brings into the world.
There is a type of animal that features prominently in today’s Gospel, the dog and little puppy dogs. What is most important is how the Canaanite woman proves herself as reflecting the beauty, cuddling softness, and dependence of little puppy dogs. Let us observe the process and pattern of our Gospel narrative today. Do we truly think that the Matthean Jesus sets out to insult the Canaanite woman, or to test her faith, or to try her patience? Actually, it is none of the above. Matthew is simply showing us, using a beautiful literary composition, the process of an unfolding relationship with Jesus, which culminates in the fecundity of the manifested fruit of healing of the Canaanite woman’s badly demonized daughter. The positive message of this narrative is the demonstration that the Canaanite woman truly exhibited the irresistible freshness, faithfulness, friendliness, patience, and loyalty of adorable puppy dogs. She can be seen as a perfect dramatic figure who interprets the role of God’s playful courtship with his bride (see Isaiah 54:5-7; Ezekiel 16:8-14, etc.,). And so, God does not only marry Israel, but he also woos the people of the nations to his bride. Therefore, Matthew highlights a wonderful process of fecundity and fruitfulness in the relationship between God and all peoples of the world as he has revealed his salvation in and through Jesus Christ.
Now, what can discourage us on the path of our encounter with God? What is it that can hinder us from receiving the healing of our minds and bodies from Jesus? What can cut the flow of the Lord’s blessing to us? What can prevent our fellowship with Jesus? What can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39)? What is it that should negatively affect our prayer life? Is it racial slur, racial profiling, wounded pride, insult, neglect, spite, or what? What on earth can discourage us and turn us away from Jesus: do experience the Lord as silent, or neglectful of us? The truth is that the Lord Jesus is all attentive to us. He is leading us on the path of faith, which will eventually fulfil our desires. The Canaanite woman focused solely on what she needed the Lord Jesus to do for her – to heal her badly demonized daughter. And she got it including the Lord’s most special and highest recognition of her faith. Can Jesus say of us today, “oh friends, great is your faith?”