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  • Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

"Faith made visible ..."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 84(83):10-11 – “Turn Your eyes, O God, our shield; and look on the face of Your anointed one; one day within Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

First Reading: Is 56:1, 6-7 – “I will bring foreigners to my holy mountain.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 – “O God, let all the nations praise you!”

Second Reading: Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 – “The gifts and the call of God for Israel are irrevocable.”

Alleluia: Mt 4:23 – “Alleluia, alleluia. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom and cured every disease among the people. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Mt 15:21-28 – “O woman, great is your faith!”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 130(129):7 – “With the Lord there is mercy; in Him is plentiful redemption.”

How many of you are more likely to listen to a news report or read a newspaper article if the headline shocks you? This past week, I just think of the headlines surrounding COVID and we’re rapidly approaching 200K deaths, the naming of Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris shocked some people, and know that I’ve been doing quite a bit more reading and watching over the past few days. Well, I know a pastor in a parish in Pennsylvania (he was a classmate in the seminary) that did something very interesting a few summers ago. What would have been last Sunday, a week early ... with the regular church bulletin ... he handed out the readings that corresponded to this weekend’s readings and he gave them an assignment. In order to get them to pay closer attention to the Liturgy of the Word … he made them pretend that that they were reporters or editors who had to come up with the headline for the Gospel story we just heard.


Here are a few sample headlines from that exercise …

“Foreign lady won’t take no for an answer.”

“Persistent, clever woman gets a ‘yes’ from Jesus.”

“‘Send the lady away,’ Jesus’ followers urge him.”

“Jesus and a pagan woman talk about dogs and food scraps.”

As I once again thought about his story and his assignment and considered what my homily might be for today … here is a headline I came up with: “What a mother will do for her child.”


Maybe one or more of those headlines captured your attention … maybe if you have the Magnificat, The Word Among Us, or Give Us This Day worship aids, you took a look at the readings for today ahead of time and when the Liturgy of the Word began, you listened instead of read. Ultimately, I believe that was my classmate’s ultimate intention ... and I whole-heartedly agree that people should be listening rather than when they’re reading ... whether it be bulletins or Scripture passages in a worship aid. Regardless of what you are doing, and having said that, let’s look a bit deeper into the story.


The Canaanite woman has a lot of factors working against the odds of her receiving a hearing from Jesus, much less a cure for her daughter. First, she is a woman and women don’t speak to men in the culture of Jesus’ time. Second, she is a foreigner ... a Gentile ... someone detested by the Jews.


But despite those obstacles, the woman succeeded in getting Jesus’ ear. And what a remarkable bit of wordplay takes place! Talk of food and table scraps and dogs. Jews in Jesus’ time didn’t allow dogs in their homes … but Gentiles did. So if a Jew were to give a dog table scraps, he had to go open the door and toss them out. A Gentile could just brush them off the table. She uses this practice to bolster her case with Jesus. Yes, she says, but even the dogs get the scraps. This line leads Jesus to remark, “O woman, great is your faith.” And He cures her daughter.


So what we have on the front side is FAITH MADE VISIBLE … and Jesus sees her faith. He sees it expressed in her persistence … in her refusal to be talked out of pleading her case … in her obvious love for her daughter. Through all of her persistence and her creativity … through all of that … Jesus is enabled to recognize her faith. Faith, as we view it, too often is mostly intellectual … belief in some doctrine … belief in some papal decree … belief in a catechism lesson, and so on. But the faith Jesus recognizes and compliments involves the heart much more than the head.


But what about FAITH MADE VISIBLE on the flip side? All the headlines that were suggested for the Gospel story today focus mainly on the woman and her interaction with Jesus. Shouldn’t there be some headlines focusing on Jesus and what happened to Him, too? Well, that’s something that I won’t ask you to do right now. But it might make a good homework assignment … it’s definitely something to think about later today and during the week. I wonder if in this scene Jesus didn’t deliberately go along with the thinking of the Jews of the time … including that of His disciples … doing so as a teaching tool … to show that what is called for is a changed attitude. Jesus responds to the woman’s plea and cures her daughter. He does this for a foreigner … a woman … and a Gentile. Rather than shake our heads … judging the Jews of that time and culture … we might ask ourselves if there is still a predisposition to restrict or greatly limit what we do to meet the needs of someone who doesn’t belong … what do we do if they don’t belong to our tribe? … in other words, what if they don’t belong to our family? … or to our church? … what do we do if they aren’t the same nationality or race? We might resort to some other arguments to support our refusal to help the stranger in need as well. We might even label the person “illegal,” thereby not disturbing our own comfort level in refusing to welcome or help the person. Jesus overcame His initial tendency to dismiss the woman. He even came up with some headlines to guide us … “I was hungry and you gave Me food”“I was thirsty and you gave Me drink”“I was a stranger and you welcomed Me”“I was naked and you gave Me clothing”“I was sick and you took care of Me.” His example with the woman today and the “headlines” that occur throughout the Gospels should be eye-openers. The question is ... Are they? Do they really make us stop and wonder?


I have heard it said by some that the most segregated hour of the week is the hour spent in church on Sunday morning. I certainly hope that those segregated attitudes are not in our hearts and minds, or in the hearts and minds of the Catholic Church. And if they are, maybe we need to take a step back and think about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.


As we continue our worship, we prepare to share a meal with our brothers and sisters at the Table of the Lord in a house of prayer. It might be good to recall what God said in the first reading today: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.”

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