For the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – August 20, 2017

“The more we read the gospel, the stronger our faith becomes.” (Pope Pius X)
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
(St. Jerome)

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Theme: Universalism.

In God’s plan, Abraham was to be the father of many nations – Universalism. Israel was to be the firstborn of a worldwide family of God, made up of all who believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus came first to restore the kingdom to Israel. But His ultimate mission was the reconciliation of the world – Universalism.

All three readings today remind us of the universality and inclusiveness of God’s love―all are invited to sit at God’s table.

  • Reading 1 – Isaiah 56:1,6-7      The Lord reveals His salvation to all.
  • Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8      All the nations will praise God.
  • Reading 2 Romans 11:13-15,29-32      God’s favor to Israel is irrevocable.
  • Gospel Matthew 15:21-28     Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.

NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.

Reading 1     Isaiah 56:1,6-7                          (Justice and Salvation for All)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom  for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ.

Today’s Reading –  God loves all people and not just His chosen people.  As Isaiah writes these words during the post-exilic period of Israel’s history, there are lots of foreigners living in Israel. Many Jews, including the leaders, consider such people as outsiders and resist their joining in the worship services even though these foreigners are willing to accept the God of Israel and follow His ways. Isaiah challenges such a parochial and narrow mentality.  Isaiah states that if non-Jews “love the name of the Lord, become His servants, observe Sabbath, hold to God’s covenant,” then they must be welcomed into God’s house of prayer for “God’s house is for all peoples.”

Thus says the LORD: Observe what is right, do what is just (See PAUSE, below); for My salvation (Jesus) is about to come, My justice, about to be revealed.

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to Him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming His servants— all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to My covenant, them I will bring to My holy mountain and make joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (For Jews and Gentiles, alike! The beginnings of universal salvation are found here where “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”)

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          “Observe what is right, do what is just” – Living in loving obedience to God. It is important that God’s people demonstrate righteousness in their lives, but that is impossible without divine enablement. 

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8                          (Praise for the Lord)

Today’s Psalm –  This hymn of praise may have been written in thanksgiving for a plentiful harvest. It is chosen today because of its strong universalistic theme, thereby connecting it with Reading 1 and the Gospel reading.

R. – O God, let all the nations praise You!
May God have pity on us and bless us; may He let His face shine upon us. So may Your way be known upon earth; among all nations, Your salvation.
(The psalmist requested God’s blessing on Israel so that other nations would learn of His favor, turn to Him in faith, and experience His salvation themselves)
R. – O God, let all the nations praise You!
May the nations be glad and exult because You rule the peoples in equity; the nations on the earth You guide.
(God’s people should praise Him because He rules justly. Because He does rule justly all nations should look to Him for guidance.)
R. – O God, let all the nations praise You!
May the peoples praise You, O God; may all the peoples praise You!
May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him! R. – O God, let all the nations praise You!

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Reading 2.     Romans 11:13-15,29-32                       (Irrevocable Gifts and Call)          

Context – Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most influential of all his Epistles, and the only writing of Paul’s which is addressed to a church (congregation) which he did not establish. He addresses the grounds we have for hope in Christ. Sin and death came by Adam: grace and life by Christ. The saving work of Jesus is a major theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Reading – Paul is hoping that the crowds of Gentiles joining the New Way will arouse so much envy in his fellow Jews that they will also accept Jesus and His message. Paul expresses his hope and profound desire that all who have initially rejected Jesus will, at some time in the future, accept Him. Like Isaiah and Jesus, Paul wants all people to be included in God’s saving plan.

Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race (the Jews) jealous (wanting) and thus save some of them. (Paul evangelized to the Gentiles, addressing himself to them and showing that the prophets had predicted their acceptance by God many centuries before – see Reading 1. He also wanted to make the Jews jealous/wanting this same evangelization, and thus encourage some of them to convert to Christianity also.) For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world (The Jews’ rejection of the gospel has led to the reconciliation of the Gentiles to God. This does not mean that if the Jews had not rejected the gospel that the Gentiles would not have been reconciled, again see Reading 1.), what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (The Jews’ acceptance of the gospel will mean for them passage from the status of death to life in Christ.) 

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. (God does not change His mind.) Just as you (the Gentiles) once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their (the Jews) disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience (God gave all of us Free Will to do good or to do bad.) that He might have mercy upon all. (He might have mercy but we must first repent of our disobedience.)

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          In thinking about all of the ex-Catholics in the world who have not as yet come back “home”, if St. Paul were alive today, I believe that he would re-write this passage, above, and substitute the word “non-Catholics” in place of the word  “Gentiles” and substitute the word “ex-Catholics” in place of  the word “Jews”. The result being: “Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you non-Catholics. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the non-Catholics, I glory in my ministry in order to make the ex-Catholics jealous (wanting) and thus save some of them.

Gospel     Matthew 15:21-28                (Reward of Faith)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to  prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.

Today’s Reading –  The biggest pastoral issue in the early Church had to do with the antagonistic treatment of Gentiles, especially those Gentiles who embraced Jesus and His New Way. In Jesus’ time, Gentiles are despised by Jews. Matthew has Jesus confine His mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But Jesus is also open to showing God’s mercy to non-Jews. We can feel the tension in the story as the Gentile woman      refuses to go away as she searches for deliverance for her daughter with an evil spirit. The real point of this story is the woman and her wonderful tenacity and faith. The tenacity and persistence of the woman should be a source of inspiration to all people who are in any way oppressed and put down. The Canaanite woman lives in a male-dominated society. She is a foreigner who ventures alone into a Jewish milieu. She persists until she gets what she wants.  Despite her background, she ends up as one of the most highly commended persons in the Gospel.  Christ came for all.  God really wants all at the table – Universalism. The woman’s wonderful faith in Jesus’ saving power is the central point of this story.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Northern Israel on the Mediterranean coast -pagan Gentile territory). And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked Him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (A good teacher may sometimes aim to draw out a pupil’s best insight by a deliberate challenge which does not necessarily represent the teacher’s own view.). But the woman came and did Jesus homage (bowed down in reverence and respect), saying, “Lord, help me.” (This woman’s desperate feeling of helplessness and her confidence in Jesus’ ability to meet her need are obvious in her posture and her words.). He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs (Gentiles).” (Jesus again clarified the difference between Jews and Gentiles to challenge her.). She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” (She acknowledged the truthfulness of what He said and then appealed to Him on the basis of its implications. Her words reveal great faith and spiritual wisdom. She did not ask for help because her case made her an exception or because she believed she had a right to Jesus’ help. She did not argue about God’s justice in seeking the Jews first. She simply threw herself on Jesus’ mercy without pleading any merit.). Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. (Jesus responded emotionally to her trust; it moved Him deeply. The woman’s faith was great because it revealed humble submission to God’s will, and it expressed confidence in Him, the Messiah, to do what only God could do. Jesus healed the girl with His word, and immediately she became well.) 

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          This miracle was another important lesson for the disciples. The Jews had priority in God’s kingdom program. However, God would deliver Gentiles who also came to Him in humble dependence and relying only on His power and mercy for salvation – see Theme – Universalism.

Another lesson from this reading is the necessity of perseverance in our prayers of petition. Do we ask with the fervor and perseverance which prove that we have “great faith”? That faith is the proof which Christ needs before He grants our requests. The Canaanite woman of whom we have just heard is for us an example of that deep-seated faith and trust in Christ’s power and Christ’s goodness.

Catechism 2610 – Just as Jesus prays to the Father and gives thanks before receiving His gifts, so He teaches us filial boldness: “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.” Such is the power of prayer and of faith that does not doubt: “all things are possible to him who believes.” Jesus is as saddened by the “lack of faith” of His own neighbors and the “little faith” of his own disciples as He is struck with admiration at the great faith of the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman.

Catechism 448 – Very often in the Gospels people address Jesus as “Lord”. This title testifies to the respect and trust of those who approach Him for help and healing. At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Lord” expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus. In the encounter with the risen Jesus, this title becomes adoration: “My Lord and my God!” It thus takes on a connotation of love and affection that remains proper to the Christian tradition: “It is the Lord!”