The first reading this weekend addresses the Jewish people and, by scriptural interpretation, ourselves, about a common human problem called “insiders and outsiders.” In matters of faith, there is often that human weakness to label people as “good or bad,” or “orthodox or heretical,” or just simply “in or out,” or, in a sense as “true Catholics or bad Catholics.” In religious circles, this decision is often based on membership in an elite or selective religious group. This first passage tells us clearly that what it should be based on is a person’s attitude of faith, not on a real or imaginary membership card to a special society. Oftentimes this drive to have an exclusive faith has many unwritten rules with self-appointed leaders. The rules usually involve extreme pietistic or ascetic practices directed by leaders who are arbitrary and often capricious in their treatment of their members. The prophet Isaiah in this passage reminds us that God is not exclusionary, but God is always welcoming and open to one and all. Indeed, the house of God “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
In our second reading, we find that Paul speaks to the universality of God’s gift of always saving a remnant of believers. The remnant will be those who have faith. Paul reminds us that God works in ways we do not understand. Paul reminds us not to write off anyone. God will have no “them” and “us,” no insiders and outsiders.
We know from our bible lessons as young people that the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel is truly the ultimate “outsider.” She has three strikes against her: she is a non-Jew; she is a Canaanite enemy; she is a woman. Some people think her forwardness is actually a greater strike against her than the other three. Her back story is her plight of a daughter who is suffering, troubled, and beset by a demon. This woman recognizes that Jesus is Lord, Son of David, so she loudly beseeches Jesus to cure her child. The Lord does not answer. The bungling disciples in-stead respond without pity and are actually embarrassed because of her. They simply want to get rid of her and they ask Jesus to send her way. Jesus tells her that his mission is for others, but she faithfully continues to be persistent. In time, because of her faith, he gives her everything: he heals her daughter
Some folks see Jesus as mean and sarcastic in this passage, but this is not correct. As we use today, so the gospel writers used a common literary form from their era that employed Semitic wisdom and wit mixed into aphorisms and riddles to make a point. This interchange of Je-sus and the woman must be read in light of the culture of then. If so, we then can understand why Jesus praises her wisdom and her faith.On a higher level of thought, the Gospel writer Matthew uses this event to explain how the mission of Jesus for salvation is not a small or “clubby” one. Matthew makes it crystal clear that the mission of Jesus is one that extends beyond the house of Israel to the ends of the earth and to all people. Matthew wants us to understand that membership in the chosen people, a religious group or tradition, is neither essential nor enough. What is enough and essential is active faith.
The humble Canaanite woman is grounded in faith that is real and obviously lived. Her plea is not for herself, but for her sick and suffering child. Even though people see her as an outcast and outsider, her faith is what matters. Her prayer is simple and says it all: “Lord, help me!” May we always be people known for our faith and may we always know to call out faithfully and persistently “Lord, help me.”
Fr. BrianBACK TO LIST