Homily for the twentieth Sunday of the year
Year A - Mt. 15:21-28


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, 'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.' But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' But she came and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, help me.' And he answered, 'It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly."





Homily:


"Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, 'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.' "


After having preached the Good News in Galilee, Jesus goes a little further north, to the district of Tyre and Sidon. In other words, he is going to a foreign land, one that is inhabited above all by non-Jews, pagans, people who do not belong to Israel. And Jesus will make an inevitable encounter: one with a woman from that area, a Canaanite, a woman from what was called the land of Canaan!


What was Jesus hoping to find in this land? Jews? Certainly not. Strangers, non-Jews? Without a doubt. But then why go to the district of Tyre and Sidon, since he will soon clearly state, as he has already done, that he has been sent only to the people of Israel? There is a true mystery here... What is this mystery?


Jesus has declared: "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." (Mk. 6:4) And: "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country." (Lk. 4:24) Certainly, Jesus was speaking thus of his home town: Nazareth. But this is also true for all of Israel, or else Christ would not have been condemned to death by his fellow Israelites...


Let us look instead at all the honor and glory awaiting Jesus in this foreign land: "Lord, Son of David!" cries the Canaanite woman... Certainly, Jews have said the same. But does not the ethnic distance that separates Christ from this woman render the Canaanite woman's acclamation even more glorious for the Savior of men?


What is more characteristic is that Jesus is asked here to combat the devil: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." It is as if all the glory, an eternal and limitless glory, the glory that will belong to the Redeemer when he crushes forever the Prince of darkness on the Last Day, is not to be manifested in Israel, but rather in a foreign land...


There is here a great Mystery, that of the universality of Salvation in Jesus Christ, that of the universal domination of Good over Evil! For the devil prowls all around us, "like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour." (1 P. 5:8) The devil forgets no one and it is good to know that, mysteriously, the Savior of men is there to combat this daily enemy!


"But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' But she came and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, help me.' And he answered, 'It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' "


When Jesus speaks of "dogs", he is using this word to refer to pagans: it was the expression used in his time. But, in fact, Jesus knows very well that this woman, even if she appears to be a "dog" in terms of her nationality and ethnicity, is in reality a true child of God in her heart and in her spirit. Appearances are deceiving!


However, for a while, Jesus plays the game: he takes this woman for a pagan and seeks to test her humility. Indeed, what humiliation she undergoes! To be called a "dog", and by the Master of the world! Truly, just about anyone other than this woman would have reacted differently, not replying as she did, which is to say with much humility!


Jesus knew that this woman was humble, and this is why he did not hesitate to put her to the test before the assembled disciples, who were rather disturbed by this encounter... For anyone who wants to combat and reject the devil is already a son of God and an adoptive child of the Father! Truly, this woman of Canaan who wanted Jesus to cast out the devil from the heart of her daughter already lived in the Heart of God!


"Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly."


The response and the testimony of Jesus is not long delayed! "O woman, great is your faith!" One seems to hear an echo of that other memorable phrase of the Lord, spoken to the Roman centurion: "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!" (Mt. 8:10)


If the Most Blessed Virgin Mary were there, following Jesus, as we might think, how would she have understood this praise of the faith of non-Jews? Was not her faith, the faith of the Mother of God, perfect? Did not the faith of Mary, the Jewish woman par excellence, surpass the faith of all of Christ's disciples, no matter which?


All these questions are meaningless if we think of the humility of Mary, a humility that is boundless, incomparable: "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden..." (Lk. 1:48) Mary, in the Holy Spirit, praised her own humility, but she did not praise her faith. And it is her humility that places her, the Mother of God, above all the disciples of Christ: "Whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Mt. 23:12)


Besides, if all the elect of God are in Christ by grace, which saves them, then similarly they are all in Mary by faith, which renders each of them free through love. So if Jesus praises the faith of the Canaanite woman or that of the centurion, it is always Mary whom he honors, for the Glory of the entire Body, destined to live eternally in the one home of the Father!




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