HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY OF THE ORDINARY TIME YEAR A AUGUST 20, 2017
Most, if not all commentaries on Matthew chapter 15 say that it is all about ritual purity. It talks about who is clean. It talks about who is not clean. It talks about what makes them that way.
On one side in today’s gospel, we have the Pharisees complaining that the disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before they ate. On the other side, we have the poor Canaanite woman begging Jesus to heal her daughter.
In keeping all the rules, the Pharisees thought they were the righteous ones. They also believed that, if there were anyone undeserving of God’s mercy, it would be the Canaanite woman.
Today, the Pharisees and scribes came all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to set Jesus straight. They want to know why his disciples disobey the tradition of the elders.
In contrast to the Pharisees and Scribes, Matthew presents this Canaanite woman. She had obviously heard about Jesus and was desperate for help. He narrates an exchange between Jesus and the woman that we can frankly describe as a little bit embarrassing.
First, Matthew says that Jesus ignored her altogether. Still, the woman persisted. Once again, Jesus refused. But she would not take no for an answer.
It is at this point that Jesus gave in and granted her wish. He said, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Now, if this chapter is all about ritual purity, what does this Canaanite woman have that the Pharisees and scribes don’t have? It is humility.
It is her humility – her willingness to let go of every last vestige of pride she has and throw herself at the feet of the Master that leads her daughter to be healed and secures a place for herself among the followers of Jesus.
Well, this was nothing new in the ministry of Jesus. From the very beginning he had been consistent and insistent that his message was directed to the spiritually poor: To the lowest of the low in heart, to the rejected and to the outcast.
In the gospel reading, the Canaanite woman became a dog because she crawled on all four. And I would say that this was exactly the kind of humility Jesus was looking for.
What, then, is the Good News for us today? We can learn several lessons from this passage. First, have you ever wondered whether or not you measured up to God’s expectations – that if there were minimal standards for faithfulness and good works, you might come up lacking?
If so, today’s passage is for you. The Canaanite woman’s great faith had nothing to do with how good she was. It had nothing to do with how much she was devoted to God. It had nothing to do with whether she had done good deeds for others. It had to do with her need for a power greater than herself and her willingness to confess it.
This passage also tells us something very important about faith. It tells us that it is not how strict we adhere to the rules that matter. What matters is our persistence in seeking help from God and our humility before him.
It tells us that there is a place in God’s kingdom for the least, the last and the lost. In other words, there’s a place for you and me.
It also tells us that there is a place for others as well, especially those we might least expect to be included in God’s great family.