20Th Sunday of Ordinary Time year A:
I’ll freely admit I’m not a dog person. I don’t think I really have ever been a dog person. My brother Nick, on the other hand, has always loved dogs. So, it’s not a genetic thing. It’s not that I hate dogs, I’m just not a big fan. But, I know there are people out there who are huge dog fans. So when you hear Jesus sort of call this Canaanite woman a dog, you might think he’s being kind. But, make no mistake: do not throw your food to the dogs is not a compliment.
Now, I don’t so much think that Jesus himself is being harsh or racist. Rather, I think that Jesus is doing a pretty good job of summarizing the thoughts and feelings of the local people at his time. Remember, Jesus was from the chosen race. God had chosen the people of Israel. So, I’m sure there were many who did not welcome, value, or appreciate people from other races, backgrounds, and religions. Even though Isaiah the prophet foretold of the foreigners coming to worship God, I’m sure many of the people at the time of Jesus did not welcome the foreigner or the stranger. But, this woman’s response shows why Jesus is so different.
This woman gives Jesus homage, worship. She pleads for help. She has faith. The result? She receives the healing she is desperate to receive for her child. Woman, great is your faith. You see, Jesus begins his conversation in the old format of race, background, and ethnic considerations. He ends with a new look on things: woman, great is your faith.
I’m sure the people of Jesus’ time would have been quite shocked. But, this wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus was shocking, this wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus speaks with foreigners, with women. This wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus stretches out his hand and smashes the boundaries of gender, race, color, language.
St. Paul carried on this important work of Jesus. He says today: I was sent to the Gentiles. This bothered a lot of people in the early Church. There was a contingent of Jesus’ followers who stated that if a person wanted to be Christian, they first had to be circumcised, becoming part of the people of Israel. St. Paul argued against that. Christ is for all people. Christ is for the children of Israel, but also for the Gentiles.
So, in Jesus’ time and in the first centuries of the Church there were many tensions in the community arising from differences based on language, background, race, etc. Now, fast forward to our own day. It sure is a good thing that in 2017 America we never have any problems with racism, hatred, or discrimination, right? I mean, we have so evolved as a people that we are always ready to welcome the stranger, the person different from ourselves, right?
Unfortunately, I think we can all agree that we still don’t get this right. As a nation, we constantly struggle with differences of race, language, background. Sometimes it seems like such a huge problem that we will never be alive to see it fixed. And you know what? That might be correct. Maybe we won’t see an end to racism in our lifetime; maybe we won’t see an end to hatred and violence. But, we should all be willing to do our own little part.
This has been a tense couple of weeks in America. This has been a tense few years in America. I want to ask all of the parish to pray. Pray for peace in our land, peace in the hearts of every man and woman in this great land. Look at Jesus. He healed this person’s daughter. He reached out to her even though she was from a different race, different background. If we are going to be Christians we need to be willing to do the same. And if our own hearts need to change to become like Christ, then let’s pray for that too. We might not see the end of racism in our world. But, I pray that we see the end of prejudice and racism in the hearts of all Christ’s followers.