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The Only One to Turn Towards

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A few years ago when I was a deacon preparing for priestly ordination, I was visiting some of the homebound. Ann was a woman with a degenerative disease that was slowly shutting down her nervous system. At the time she could walk with great difficulty and she was prone to falling and hurting herself. I remember on this visit her telling me that her father and her brother, the only close family she had, decided to stop paying 

for an aid to be with her in the evenings. I’ve never seen a look of fear like she had, not because she had to find some impossible way to pay for what she needed, but because the people she was relying on for help were turning away from her.

It’s a scary moment when the person you trust won’t help you. And so the gospel today is a hard one to read, because it seems like Jesus isn’t really interested in helping this woman. First he ignores her and then he dismisses her pretty harshly… and while she’s too focused to take much note of it that dismissal, I think it leaves us wondering “why?” Why would Jesus not immediately have compassion and heal this woman’s daughter… and the real question, might he do the same with us? Is Jesus not who we think he is? He even says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and I have news for you, we’re not part of Israel. So what are we supposed to make out of this gospel?

Let’s start with Jesus saying he was only sent to Israel. Recall the title that the Israelites receive throughout the Scriptures: the Chosen People. What makes them the Chosen People is that God entered into a covenant with them and revealed Himself to them in order for this very reason – that He could send His Son to them, and they would have the preparation needed to understand who Christ is. I mean… imagine if Jesus was sent to the Greco-Roman world of the Gentiles instead, imagine if he was born in Rome and ministered and taught and healed a people who believed in pantheons of many gods and who would barter with their deities – I offer this god some sacrifice, he does something for me in return. If Christ performed his miracles in that context they wouldn’t see in him the revelation of the Creator and the presence of a loving God desiring to be in relationship with His people, they would see a figure of power, one of many others, that could help them and harm their enemies. So Jesus knows, he knows that if he heals in this pagan context the people will not understand who he is, and instead of helping them to know the Father, they would become even more lost by their lack of perception.

But this woman, this pagan Canaanite woman… she understands. She asks for pity. She names him as Lord, as Son of David. She accepts that she is not an Israelite, that she can’t receive the fullness of His message and eat at the table. And in her persistence she knows and proves that there is no other power to turn to, that in Christ the healer there is the only real and true source of life. And so Christ can say, “you have faith, I can heal because you will understand.”

And if there is any doubt still remaining that Jesus did not cared about some people more than others, consider this: Jesus chose to travel to Tyre and Sidon, pagan cities outside of Israel. He chose to be present to the Gentile world, knowing that once his mission was complete they could truly learn who he was. Jesus was sent to Israel, but he was for the entire world. So that fear of being abandoned, of being rejected in our need… that fear should never be held towards Christ. He knows our hearts.

Now, I know that at times we feel abandoned as we pray for things only to find our lives sink further. If that has been your experience recently, I would ask you three things. First, do you understand who Christ is, that he is not a good luck charm to grant what you ask, but our Savior with a mission of revealing the Father to us? Second, have you persevered like the Canaanite woman, bringing your need to prayer repeatedly even for years? Lastly, do you have humility? The Canaanite woman did not take offense to being called a dog who can’t eat at the table; can you accept that your vision is limited and that there are things you may not yet understand?


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