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August 20, 2017

20th Sunday of Ordinary, Cycle A - August 20, 2017

FIRST READING       Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the Lord:  Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.  The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants-all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

SECOND READING        Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters:  I am speaking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.  Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.  For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

GOSPEL       Matthew 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is tormented by a demon.”  But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.  Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”  He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”  He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”  Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today the readings give us teaching about non-Jewish people being redeemed.  For most of us, that is something that we have always believed.  But we need to remember that this was a new idea for many at the time of Jesus.  The Prophets had foretold that salvation would go to the nations, those who were not born of Jewish blood.  Nevertheless, the Jewish people were not quick to accept this teaching.  Even Jesus often speaks and tells us that He was sent for “His own people,” the Jewish people, as we hear in today’s Gospel.

Even today, we can find people who believe that all who are not Catholic will go to Hell.  This is clearly against the Catholic teaching.  On the other hand, there is no teaching that says that all will be saved, and especially that all will be saved without doing anything.  There must be some response to God, even if it is not clear to the person.  But God’s mercy is incredible.  Just as in the time of Jesus, Jesus Himself could open wider the doors of salvation, so now the Church can open wide the doors of salvation:  but it is always through Jesus and through His Church.

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah and proclaims to the Jewish people of that time that outsiders could be saved:  “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants-all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.”  These are foreigners who seem to remain foreigners and yet follow the ways of the Jewish people.  The point of the Prophet Isaiah is that all can be saved.  Yet he is not saying that all are saved.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Romans and basically emphasizes once again that non-Jews can be saved and invited to salvation in Jesus Christ.  One of the points that Saint Paul is making is that God’s Covenant with the Jewish People is irrevocable and still in place.  We must always remember that our salvation has come through the Jewish people and that our New Covenant does not invalidate the Old Covenant with them.

Finally the Gospel of Matthew presents us with a Canaanite woman.  This woman clearly loves her daughter and wants healing for her daughter.  She loves her daughter enough that she is willing to accost Jesus and even argue with him for the healing of her daughter.  The words of Jesus to her sound harsh to us but are also a lesson to us:  faith happens and is not confined to the Jewish people or to the Christian people.  Faith can be present, even faith in Jesus, without a complete belief in the ways that we might wish.

It is clear, however, that the normal way to God is through Jesus Christ and through His Church.  Today everyone wants to be the exception and this seems often only from insecurity.  Rather we need to become secure enough in God’s love that we can become ordinary believers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip