The Gospel view of “Foreigners” — My Homily from Aug. 17, 2014

Homily for 20th Sunday in OT 2014

Gospel: MT 15:21-28
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
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.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
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.

HOMILY by Father James DiLuzio CSP

A man had two sons. When the older son become of age, his father directed him to help his mother with the household chores. The younger son, some three years younger, would sit on his father’s lap and listen to his father talk about his ancestors and about the value of hard work. As the years went by, the father took the younger son to work with him in the yard, mowing and landscaping. “Not you,” he would say to his older son, “your mother needs help moving the furniture and washing the floors.” At large family gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July, the father and his brothers and their sons would gather after the meals to talk about work, sports, politics. But not the older son. He would help his mother, his aunts and cousins in the kitchen. This went on for many years until, one day, when the oldest son reached the age of 17, while he was clearing the dishwasher for his mother, and his dad and his brother were out mowing the lawn, a solicitor rang the front door bell. The 17 year old answered and opened the door. The solicitor said, “I need to speak to the man of the house.” And from the very depth of his being, the young man took a strong deep breath and called out in a loud voice, “I am the man of the house. You are speaking to him.” From that moment on, the older son shared in the mowing and the weeding and the landscaping. He insisted that his father and brother takes turns with his mother and sisters doing the laundry and washing the floors. On holidays, along with uncles and cousins, he saw to it that everyone cleaned the dining room and the kitchen after the meals. Now everyone joins in and all are better for it.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when we must insist on being included, when we must claim recognition for aspects of ourselves that others may deny, even when we can never fully understand or explain their reasons for denying us. Jesus allows the Canaanite woman one-upmanship to reveal to the disciples and to us that “everyone belongs,” beyond any arbitrary definitions or personal preferences of “who is in and who is out.”

Lord knows what criteria the father in our story was using but there is always a better criteria, a better source for judgment and that is the kingdom of God. And when one makes a choice for the kingdom, when any man, woman or child claims it for himself or herself, everyone benefits.
The Canaanite woman knew God was for her as much as anyone, and Jesus affirms that faith in an all encompassing way. His words to her at the onset seem harsh, but scholars tell us that while Jesus invokes the derogatory image of dogs used by all of his apostles and disciples to label foreigners and people of pagan faith, he only does so in order to reveal their hardness of heart. Furthermore, in the course of the conversation Jesus transitions the word from “dog” to “puppies,” a nuance not conveyed in most English translations to add an irony of endearment. That change brings comfort to the woman and emboldens her to claim her human dignity and her daughter’s need for healing before God.

All human beings belong to God, and God alone has the only just and compassionate criteria for inclusion: simply being human is enough to be good for God. Love and compassion, forgiveness and healing must be offered to everyone who seeks God with a sincere and opened heart. And for those who don’t, God has designated countless people to witness to God’s love without prejudice or judgement or condemnation so his invitation for relationship is observable, tangible and concrete. Aren’t we all here today because we want to be counted as among those designated as God’s concrete examples? Aren’t we all, in an endearing way, simply God’s puppies? As any dog lover will attest, even when the shoes get chewed, the garden uprooted, the newspaper lost, there is nothing so wonderful as a puppy. And so we humans must remember God’s love for us is greater then any mess we make, big or small. We are called to extend this all inclusive acceptance to everyone.

The biblical truth “everyone belongs to God” must be part of our discussions and discernment regarding not only ourselves and our families but our world view. It must season how we see the events in Fergusen, Missouri, the plight of the immigrant and refugee children, of Christians in the Middle East, of the tribal hatreds among Sunni, Shiites and Kurds, Israelis and Palestinians and the solutions and remedies we promote. The kingdom of all are welcome compels us to honest evaluation of our personal preferences and comfort levels in making judgements, and to admit our prejudices, too. What’s our foundational approach for evaluation anyway—economic, political, legal, racial, religious? Is there not a higher power and perspective greater than all of these? I believe there is and I trust that you believe it, too. As we approach Eucharist this weekend, may The Lord grant us the humility to accept every crisis as an opportunity for fair and just relations among all people, no exceptions. The Canaanite woman reveals to us that when anyone acknowledges all are God’s children—then, and only then, can miraculous healing occur.


Today’s readings are about “inclusion,” accepting the God honest truth that “everyone belongs.” From the beginning of the human race, people have grouped themselves into families and tribes, initially by blood relation but later because of common beliefs and rituals with strict rules for those who belong and those who do not. Human fallibility being what it is, some of these rules became quite arbitrary. When David became King, the twelve tribes of Israel were still not quite sure they wished to be united as one tribe under God. They each had their differences, particular ways of doing things and interpreting their traditions. They even had their different Gods, although they had the One God – the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses in common acknowledgement as the greatest of all. But David unites them, in spite of themselves, yet it was a fragile unity, that fell apart at the end of David’s son Solomon’s reign and the resultant civil war created two countries: Israel to the north comprising 10 tribes and Judah to the south comprising only 2.

Today we need to claim more fully that the story of the bible, taken as a whole, whether the Old Testament by itself, the New Testament alone, or more emphatically, both together, is is the story of God calling humanity out of a tribal way of living (i.e., living in a world of “us against them,” a world of constant judgements and condemnations of “who is in and who is out,” “whose sins are forgivable and whose are not”) into a world of universal brotherhood and sisterhood where all are welcomed through love and forgiveness, all are invited to make amends and restitution for wrong doing and so reclaim their human dignity, all are given every opportunity to speak and identify themselves as children of God.
We need to keep this truth n conversation in all aspects of our life, applying it in our homes and our businesses and politics.

Who knows what criteria the father in our story used to include one son in his world and not the other, but in the kingdom of God all are included. Imagine if we indulged our attitudes and judgements and preferences regarding this Eucharist today, we who are joined by our faith in Jesus but come from different ethnic groups and cultures, speak different languages, hold on to different political and economic perspectives and ways of living. H0w can we in our fallibility decide who can encounter Jesus or who needs him more than another? Still, at times we may dare to embrace a comfortable level of arrogance or prejudice to make our reception of Jesus so personal and private that we secretly think “Jesus is for me but not for you!”

ALL Scripture Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Lectionary: 118
Reading 1
IS 56:1, 6-7
Thus says the LORD:
Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation 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.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R/ (4) 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.
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.
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!

Reading 2
ROM 11:13-15, 29-32
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 jealous
and thus save some of them.
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world,
what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Just as you once disobeyed God
but have now received mercy because of their 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,
that he might have mercy upon all.

Gospel
MT 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
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.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
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.

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