FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 16, 2020:
We heard in our Gospel, “Jesus said to [the woman], ‘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.” Our Gospel passage today is the flip side of the coin that we heard in last week’s Gospel – and both of them are a reflection on the nature of faith. Last week, of course, we heard the dramatic story of Jesus walking on water and inviting Peter to do the same. Peter, as we recall, was initially strong in his faith and walked on water with Jesus –but soon found doubt creeping back in and he began to sink. Last week gave us the story of a disciple – one of Jesus’ privileged inner circle – invited to share in a miracle; but who let doubt and fear diminish the power of his faith.
This week, we hear a story of someone who was quite the opposite of a disciple. The woman was a Canaanite, a group hated by the people of Jesus time. The definition of an outsider. But, like Peter, she met her encounter with Jesus with determination and perseverance; and she did not lose the miracle before her precisely because of the courage of her conviction. Her daughter was healed.
Peter last week showed us what doubt can do to our faith; this week the Canaanite woman shows us the transformative power of strong and courageous faith.
But, our Gospel today also makes another profound point in this simple exchange. It begs a question of us – who does God love? Is God’s love available to all? Or is it the property of a select few people or groups or sects or faiths?
Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography tells how, during his student days, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, their caste system. He had seriously considered becoming a Christian because of the equality he found in Jesus. He attended church one Sunday morning hoping to talk to the minister about converting. But, on entering the church the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said, 1“If Christians have their own caste system, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
Have you ever felt excluded? I think that feeling excluded or left out is a common thing for most people to experience at some point in their lives. Some of us have felt it more than others and many have felt it more strongly than others. Were you ever the last one picked for the baseball team and it seemed no-one wanted you? Did you feel snubbed by some group because they felt you weren’t good enough? Were you not invited to a party or other occasion because you didn’t seem to fit in? Were you excluded by others because of your economic status; or the color of your skin; or where you are from; or your liberal or conservative politics? I think that many of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives for any number of reasons.
We know that this happens in a faith context as well. On a basic level, as pastor, I hear it all the time when people will say of someone, “They don’t belong to this parish.” On a grander scale, the belief that God's blessings are limited only to certain people has been around for a very long time. Every people and culture has a handful of such prejudices – we can find in the Old Testament the notion that the Jews as the only beloved people of God or we can hear the phrase that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Our world experiences the prejudice of the caste system in India and the sin of racial superiority in Nazi Germany or the white supremacy and racial turmoil that has reared its ugly head once again here in America these last few years. There is the myth of the superiority of men over women and the notion of the superiority of Western culture over all others. Exactly these kinds of beliefs were alive in the society in which Jesus grew up too.
But, through this simple encounter with an outsider, the Canaanite woman, Jesus makes a profound statement – that God’s love and mercy are available to everyone. He shows us through miracle that perseverance and faith can activate God’s power in everyone’s lives – in anyone’s life. It calls to mind the hymn, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”
We can be tempted to think that we have cornered the market on God; that we are the only ones to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. That God loves us and only us. But, God poses to everyone the same invitation He poses to us, “Come and draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.” All He asks of us is faith in Him, and that faith can move mountains. And He invites us to stop embracing the culture of exclusion that surrounds us, and instead be His ambassadors of love, mercy, joy, compassion, and forgiveness – sharing those things with everyone, with anyone, we meet.
As we gather today for this Eucharist, let us all have hearts that hunger for the miracle that is Christ in our lives. Let us thank Him for the gift of our faith and let us be persistent in asking God for what we need. And our persistence, our courage and our faith will pay off in the end as the Lord says to each of us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy; there is grace enough for thousands; there is plentiful redemption…let us share it with the world.
May the Lord give you peace!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.