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Along the Way
20th Sunday Ordinary Time August 18 2002
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Woah!!! The Jesus in todays gospel reading seems very different from our usual encounter with Jesus every Sunday! Who is this? Are we missing something?

There are two processes going on in todays Gospel. The first process involves the emerging faith of the cananite woman. The second involves the disciples understanding of the role of the messiah.

Throughout the gospels when Jesus heals someone it is not a matter of zap and your healed! There is always some evidence that the person has faith in Jesus. Jesus is able to give the person the gift of healing but they must have at least minimal faith to receive the gift. Jesus gives the woman an uncharacteristically hard time on first encounter. If she was seeking a miracle worker or a celebrity, would have been turned off by the cold reception. She may not have understood what a messiah was or the true nature of Jesus, since she was a gentile, but she she knew that Jesus could heal her daughter. She had enough faith to trust that Jesus could work the miracle her daughter needed. As a result, she was not going to let him get away without healing her daughter. She loved her daughter and was willing to endure anything to see her daughter healed. Jesus dialog with the woman demonstrated the womans love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus. Notice that Jesus marvels over the faith of the woman. It was this that made the healing possible.

Now the second process to understand involves the disciples. Their understanding of the Messiah was the promised one of the Jews. The Messiah would overthrow the oppressive Romans and restore the Jewish People to their former glory. He was a Jewish savior. Now when this Cannanite woman began calling out to Jesus for help, what was their response? "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." They were irritated. The Caananite woman who approached Jesus already had three strikes against her. Strike one, she was a Caananite whose people were hostile to the Israelites. Strike two, she was a woman in a male dominated society. Strike three, she was a gentile. So, when Jesus first speaks to the woman, he echoes the disciples. Their expectations are confirmed, as well as their hopes that they will accompany Jesus the Messiah to earthly glory. Jesuss comparison of the Cannanites to dogs is cruel. Yet, it is no different from what the disciples were thinking and the woman expected. The womans witty, yet faith-filled response is all that Jesus was awaiting and to the utter astonishment of the disciples, Jesus heals the womans daughter. They were astonished because they still remembered it some 30 or 40 years later when the gospel was reduced to writing. Jesus played the disciples along and then just when they thought they had everything figured out Jesus turned their self-satisfied complacency upside down. Jesus welcomes gentiles into the Kingdom! Jesus gives us this gentile woman as an example of faith!

How does this apply to us? When Jesus preached he did two things. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.

Jesus welcomes the outsider, the afflicted. Ive made a mess of my life so far! Welcome! Im not like everyone else in Churchfill in the blank.. Welcome! Im not a practicing CatholicI dont even know what I believe! Welcome!

Jesus is also trying to stir us out of our complacency. The Church is half full this morning. Why isnt it full to overflowing? Do we make the stranger feel welcomed? Do we invite our neighbors and friends within the parish to join us in Church, maybe even our family members who have fallen away? Do we reach out to those in the community who are different from us? Now, Im not saying that we dont do these things. We have a very active parish, with a broad range of ministries.

But Im asking us to stop for a second and consider what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel. The disciples were exhausting themselves in ministering to their people. There is only so much strength and so much grace they thought and we are meeting our responsibilities, they seem to have thought. Yet, Jesus tells them in the example of the cannanite woman that my grace is inexhaustible and my ministry which you share extends to everyoneeven those you dont like and who are very different from you.

To those who are afflicted, Jesus says in todays gospel, "Come, find mercy and comfort!". To those who are comfortable, Jesus says, "My house is a house of prayer for all people!"

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

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