19 and 20 August 2017 Twentieth Sunday Ordinary Time A Homily
My sisters and brothers in Christ.
Do you ever wonder which of the “Acts of Jesús” really took place historically?
Scripture scholars like to compare the same “incident” from the Gospels to see if there are differences, theological “points” to be made, or possible explanations for discrepancies we find in the Gospels.
For instance the story of “a Canaanite woman” from “Tyre and Sidon” appears in the the Gospels of Mark where the woman is called a “Syro Phoenician” woman.
The two incidents are essentially two different reports on what happened between Jesus, the disciples and a woman and her daughter
The fact that this encounter is in both Matthew and Marks’ gospels tells us that historically this encounter most likely did occur. The story’s popularity is attested in two of the four Gospels so it is given more certainty of actually happening than if it appears in only one of the four Gospels.
In a way it would be less work and easier on all of us if there existed only one Gospel. Discrepancies, events, the chronology of events would be a much simpler for everyone concerned.
However we know that the gift of faith is experienced in different ways by different groups and persons.
It just so happens that there are four Gospels in our tradition. There are fragments of other Gospels attributed to other Apostles. But these are fragments and not whole Gospels. Where they coincide with the Four known Gospels we can recognize them as portions of “lost” Gospels but we do not give them the weight or recognition of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We call these four Gospels “Canonical Gospels” meaning they are in the official “Canon” of Sacred Books in our church.
When I reflect on today’s Gospel I am amazed that it is even in the Gospels, much less two of them.
Matthew and Mark both present this encounter in a similar but not exactly identical forms.
What amazes me that Jesús is portrayed in this fashion is that there have been plenty of opportunities to substitute say Peter or Thomas as the main character in the story but this incident always has Jesús as the “heavy”.
Jesús in this story will not even look at the woman. What the woman wants is what any and all mothers want for their daughters. Simply “help me”! “Help me by helping not me but my child.”
Jesús is very clear about why he will not even speak to the woman. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.
In today’s terms she is one of “them”.
She is not one of “us”.
The woman persists. She does Jesús homage and addresses him: “Lord, help me”.
Jesús really is irritated and wishes this woman, this foreigner, this “other” would go away and says:
“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
This woman is tenacious and gives at least as good as she gets:
“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Jesús says: “O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
The woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
There are a few things to be concluded from this.
First, Jesús was the Son of God be he was also the son of Mary and struggled with the messages, rules and customs of his Judean religion, Judean culture and the complicated politics of the Judean Nation.
Second, the truth of Jesús being truly human is demonstrated in this passage.
We recall that Jesús had to struggle as he emptied himself in the Garden of Gethsemane before he died on the Cross.
Jesús is forced, today, by a foreign woman of all people, to empty himself, free himself of the limitations his religion, culture and nation had taught him.
Jesús, like us, at times comes to an insight about his mission that frees him to reach out to “all” not just “some” people.
Third, Jesús and the woman meet at the cultural and geographic boundaries of the their own time and place.
We too must reflect upon the boundaries and limitations of our religion. Our religion, our culture and our nation “give” us as a set of “certain truths and unquestionable values”.
Jesús, like the Judeans of his time, referred to gentiles (non Judeans) as “dogs” or “swine”.
Jesús until his encounter with the “woman” of Canaan could, without even thinking, refer to this troubled woman and her daughter as “dogs”.
My money says he never made that mistake again.
A final comment is in order.
Jesús does not get much good advice from his male companions. In the Gospels these “men” are like overgrown, immature, awkward boys who mostly miss every clue that comes their way.
Certain women do seem to be able to get Jesús’ attention. Jesús listens to and even changes his plans at the request of is mother Mary at a wedding feast.
A Canaanite woman with a daughter in need brings Jesús to “see” that his mission, contrary to his “training” , was
to everyone and to all,
not to some and a few.
One commentator suggested this story of the foreigner as “dog” might have inspired Jesús to give us the parable of the Good Samaritan.
One thing I know is: that the Lord’s inspiration and even sometimes obscure puzzling observations may come from a source Jesús and we least expect.