Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 + Psalm 67 + Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32 + Matthew 15: 212-28
August 20, 2023
This homily is not delivered during Liturgy as I am serving a Maronite Community this weekend
Concerns about who is in and who is out have been going on since the beginning of time. We organize ourselves in families, neighborhoods, parishes, and all sorts of groups that give us identity, responsibilities, and sometimes privileges. Those groups have boundaries too, and we are usually quick to know who belongs and who does not, usually guarding those privileges that come from belonging so that those who do not belong get no share.
It is a challenge to the pious to see Jesus in the first part of this episode. He is less than we are always expecting him to be. The disciples are too. They want to send that woman away which is exactly what they said about the hungry crowd. She’s not the right kind. Her skin color may have been different from theirs, who knows? Besides, she’s a woman in a man’s world. That first reaction of Jesus seems to satisfy the disciples and confirm that self-protecting attitude. He dismisses her with what was probably a common insult calling her a dog. She will have none of it, and fired up with a mother’s love, she turns his insult back on him with the suggestion that even dogs can become loved family pets.
To a community made up largely of Jewish Christians working hard to figure out how to accept, understand, and live with the presence of Gentiles among them, this Gospel reveals the will of the Father. Today, the message is no less challenging and still comes to reveal the will of the Father. To a Church broken into various religions, it is a call to look again at how and where unity is to be found. To a Church separated by cultures and languages it raises the same questions. To a Church not quite sure about how, when, and where the gifts of women are to be embraced this Gospel calls for some reflection. To a Church still too ready and willing to decide who is in and who is out when it comes to communion with those who are divorced, those whose sexuality does not quite fit old norms, or those whose political views are different, this Gospel rocks the boat, so to speak.
What happens in this Gospel episode raises questions about how we identify ourselves in relation to others. It calls into question how our membership in the Body of Christ shapes and conditions our relationships with others. Old Isaiah, the prophet spoke of the Chosen People wanting them to realize that their privilege was not for themselves but for the sake of the world. He spoke the Word of the Lord this way; “I come to gather nations of every language, they shall come to see my glory. They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord. (66:18) My friends, we have a great privilege because of the gift of our faith, and with it comes a great burden and serious responsibility; not to keep others out, but to draw them into the love of the Lord.