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Pray always

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland


Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Today’s Gospel is one that we hear with the ears of faith. We know this Jesus from whom the Canaanite woman is seeking help. We expect him to answer her cries. But this is a woman and it was not expected that she would even speak to a strange man. She was part of a race the Jews regarded as doomed and whose religious practice was very different from their own. She was also a Gentile asking help from the Jewish Messiah. Jesus’ disciples clearly wanted Jesus to ignore her, even to send her away. What must she have thought when Jesus did speak to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs?”  Even this was not enough to stop her pleas. Her daughter was possessed by a devil and the one person who she thinks might be able to help does not seem to care.  Everything seemed helpless.

Even though the Scripture contains many examples of persistence in prayer, today’s Gospel is particularly interesting for many reasons. The woman’s response to rejection is the sort of wit that is often called wisdom. Jesus seemed to have appreciated it enough to reward her. Scripture scholars tell us that this is the sort of repartee that is common in the Near East — the ability to outwit one another in conversation. If the woman’s need was not so serious, the repartee might seem somewhat playful.

This matching of wits was common in Eastern conversation but certainly not between a man and a woman. This is the kind of conversation that none of us would allow except to those for whom we have the deepest respect. It is another episode from Jesus’ life that reveals a total absence of the misogyny and the assumption of the inferiority of women that prevailed in the Jewish world of his time. His teaching about women is not as revolutionary as his conduct is.

The first reading deals with prayer in a more direct manner. Everyone who is faithful to the covenant should be accepted by the community of believers: “…their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

While remaining true to his promise to save Israel, the Lord embraced others. At Eucharist, we come to receive the Lord and to give ourselves to the Father through Jesus.

The Christian community declares that Jesus came to save all. Yet, we are too often caught up in a preoccupation with our own divine election. At this celebration, we are called to remember that salvation is the Father’s plan for all.





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