Sunday, Aug. 16, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67: 2-3, 5-6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28.
Differences have been perceived as relational stumbling blocks throughout human history. Haven’t most wars, battles, riots and disputes arisen because somehow we see the other, individually or collectively, as a threat?
When God called the Israelites to be his “Chosen People,” some thought that this choice excluded those who were not members of the 12 tribes. God revealed many times and in many ways that the covenants of the time before Christ were a preparation for the new and eternal covenant that would embrace all peoples. Israel’s chosenness was a special gift; it was a divine choice that made of them the people through whom the Savior of the whole world would come.
The prophet Isaiah, centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, already foretold a time of blessing for “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” (Isaiah 56:6). The Lord assured the Israelites to whom this prophecy was revealed that all who entered into the covenantal bond of love and faithfulness would enjoy grace and favor: “Them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7).
This joyful possibility of a real bond between God and people of all the nations is proclaimed also in Psalm 67, in which people of every nation are called to unite in praising God, who “rules the peoples in equity” (Psalm 67:5) and shines the radiance of his face upon all his children.
In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul highlights the universal plan of salvation that is mysterious in its unfolding. That all people struggle in our obedience to God is self-evident, but the apostle delivers the good news that God allowed this, “that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32), both Jew and Gentile.
The exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman of today’s Gospel illustrates these points in the rich truth of a loving encounter. Even though the women is an “outsider,” she cries out in faith to Jesus, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” (Matthew 15:22) and presents to him the tragedy of her daughter’s possession. The disciples show the attitude typical of their time, expressing annoyance that this pagan woman should disturb the rabbi sent to the children of Israel. Jesus even echoes the prevailing attitude in his own words, eliciting even more strongly the faith of the woman who addresses him as Lord three times and expresses firm hope in his power to deliver her daughter.
Matthew records Jesus’ acclamation of the woman’s faith and direct attribution of the healing of her daughter to that faith: “‘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” (Matthew 15:28).
Today’s readings offer an antidote to any temptation to impose human limits on God’s love and mercy. Even St. Paul himself once thought that followers of Christ were such a threat that they should be arrested and delivered to death. God’s choice of Israel is irrevocable, and that choice is one unto the salvation of every one of us. As St. Paul wrote in one of his last letters, God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). If the energy of our conflicts were turned to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, how might our world be changed?
Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a Dominican Sister of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.
She received her doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome and currently
teaches religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.