Deacon Cornell's Homily


Isaiah 56:6-7
Romans 11:13-15,29-32
Matthew 15:21-28


August 19-20, 2017, Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

There is a story about a bus carrying a group of Muslims to an event to raise money for Afghanistan widows. On the way it swerved to avoid a car, went down an embankment, killing everyone inside. The group found itself standing at heaven's gate. St. Peter came out and welcomed them, and told them to follow him. As they turned the first corner, St. Peter turned, and putting his finger on his lips, he asked them to be very quiet as they passed the next door. When they were well past it one of the Muslims asked St. Peter what was in that room that they had to be quiet. St. Peter said, "That is where all the Catholics are and they think they are the only ones in heaven."

It continually amazes me how relevant scripture that was written thousands of years ago can be to what is going on today. Our readings today go to the heart of God's inclusivity. I know it is hard to imagine but 2,500 years ago, many of God's chosen people thought that because God had chosen and blessed them that they were better than those who were not so chosen. The prophets again and again had to remind them that they had been chosen to bring all people into God's kingdom. Today's first reading from the prophet we call the second Isaiah, would have been shocking to some of the Jews; it says that non-Jews would be invited into the temple to offer their own sacrifices which would be acceptable to God.

Some 500 years later, at the time of the Gospel story, not much has changed. The Jews of that time (and remember, Jesus was a Jew), still regarded God's favor as something that belonged only to the Jews. They were so prejudiced against people like the Canaanite women that it was out of the ordinary for a rabbi, or any male for that matter to speak to a Canaanite women. Jesus initially mirrors the cultural ways in ignoring her pleas. Then he voices what he (in his truly human form) believes is being obedient to his Father's mission: to bring the kingdom of God to God's chosen people. But like so many other amazing women in the bible, the Canaanite women will not be put off.

What a lesson in faith. You see faith is not a matter of what we believe or don't believe. Again and again, the Gospels and the Letter of James make it clear that faith is about how we act, how we live. This woman not only endures what is an insult but driven by her love for her daughter, she turns it around. And this teaches Jesus something about the true nature of what the Father has sent him to do.

True obedience always contains a sense of growing to learn more about the authority we are obeying. As a fully human person, Jesus was able to grow in his obedience to the Father's command, and hopefully those who were listening to what was happening learned something as well.

What are we to learn from this story? Here a just few things. First, think of how the Gospel today compares the lack of faith on Peter's part last week to the faith of this foreign woman. Just hanging around with Jesus doesn't mean we have faith. In today's terms, it means just because we go to Mass regularly or we pray alot, that does not mean we have a strong faith. Another lesson is to persevere. How often do we pray for something and then expect God to answer our prayer immediately, and in the way that we imagine.

But I would suggest that the most important lesson we need to learn is that God's kingdom is inclusive. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, there is no Greek or Jew, or slave or master. In today's climate it means no Christian or Jew or Muslim or atheist, no citizen or immigrant, no black or white or red or yellow, no right or left or middle. If we are to call ourselves Christian, we must act out our faith, building bridges instead of walls, in the words of Pope Francis. Everything that we have been blessed with, individually or as a people, has been given to us by God for the benefit of those who have less. That is the good news we are called to proclaim as missionary disciples. Only when we do this day in and day out will people says of us: great is their faith!

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