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Ordinary Time 20 (A)
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Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

 

1. Isaiah 56, 1 and 6-7

  • I hear a universal message today.  God’s word, interpreted by the prophet, is not limited to Israel but is addressed to the foreigners, to all peoples.
  • Those who minister to the Lord, who keep his covenant, are invited to my holy mountain.  This is Mount Zion, and it replaces all those other mountains where they might have built sanctuaries. 
  • And what noise do I hear on the mountain?  I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.  We can celebrate easily when it’s just our own family, but do we open ourselves to the same joy when we are among strangers (or strangers are among us)?  This awkward phrase is not filler material but is key to understanding the whole passage.  It is a culmination, because God gathers in strangers and forms a people there.  And isn’t joy something to be shared, a group dynamic?  Every Bible reading about new arrivals speaks to my congregation and I will make sure they hear it.  I will make this phrase the climax of my own reading.
  • And what about their burnt offerings and sacrifices?  Let me think of the stewardship slogans we repeat so much in our parish, and remember as I read that these strangers in our midst also bring gifts to God.  Let us welcome them not only with handshakes but with our eyes and ears.  I will emphasize the pronoun ‘their’ as a reminder that we are a people of God, not groupings and movements.  I could also remember the parable of the laborers in the vineyard as I say this.
  • Central point: Everyone is welcome in God’s house.  The breadth and sweep of my gaze today bears witness to this.  I see everyone and everyone sees me.
  • Message for our assembly: We welcome each other in our assemblies because God first welcomes us.  If God has made us welcome here, let us act as if we were welcome with our participation and prayer.
  • I will challenge myself: to connect the threads the church has given us in this brief excerpt from the prophet.

 

2. Romans 11, 13-15 and 29-32

  • Now as the apostle speaks, I hear a second discussion about Jews and Gentiles.  This time he is not talking about worship on Mount Zion but about the formation of a new people in Jesus.  I hear his confidence that Israel will some day become fully part of this people.
  • It is a kind of forecast of the last days: reconciliation of the world, life from the dead.  I do not hear words of cataclysm or destruction, but rather promises of unity and harmony.  God always turns our blindness into sight, our rubble into fertile ground.  If this is God’s design, what can I do to help enable it and hasten the day of its presence among us?  In terms of movie themes, my soothing voice takes us from the screams of Independence Day to the hope of Prodigal Summer.
  • In the second half of the reading I hear mercy over and over, God’s mercy toward the chosen people and God’s mercy toward the Gentiles.  The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.  The apostle lifts his mind and heart beyond the many rejections he has known.  So should we learn in our minds and hearts the lesson of the bitter history of estrangement, hatred and genocide, adopt the plan of God and become a personal bridge across the divisions.  I can dare to speak these words in the assembly today because I have come to know some of that bitter history and sought to be a healer.  This kind of appreciation will not come after two or three run-throughs.  As I rehearse I seek an openness to the intentions of God, which are not our intentions, and incorporate them gradually into my words.
  • Climax: The final phrase reduces us all to equality before God.  We will each have our turn in the place of honor, but from God’s point of view we are all in need.  God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all. 
  • The message for our assembly: I am speaking to you Gentiles.  All of those listening to me are Gentiles.  What the apostle says is for us today, even though his original audience in Rome has long since died.
  • I will challenge myself: To adopt God’s perspective, imitating the apostle in his hope for union of all those who pray to the one God.  In that way I will make the complicated sentence full of rejection and reconciliation more intelligible.

 

Gospel. Matthew 15, 21-28

  • Once again Jesus and his disciples are on the move into border country, the region of Tyre and Sidon. 
  • Have pity on me, Lord, son of David!  The woman is not passing the time of day with Jesus.  She is desperate.  I say words like these at the beginning of every mass.  Do I see the Lord before me, and do I feel the need of his healing power? 
  • Jesus exchanges words with the Canaanite woman.  It does not sound like dialog.  It sounds like someone knocking on the door, and the other person unwilling to open, almost discourteous.  What do I think is the right tone to use?
  • First, the woman.  She shows the utmost respect to him and did him homage.  She even calls him Lord twice.  So why doesn’t Jesus give her what she asks for?
  • Jesus is looking for faith, and he answers her prayer when he sees her faith.  When he healed the sick in Galilee he could take their faith for granted.  In Tyre and Sidon, and for the centurion also, unless there was faith he could do nothing.  He reminds his disciples: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But he listens to her because he thinks she will reveal her faith.
  • Does Jesus humiliate her by comparing her people with the dogs?  No, because he has received her.  But he tests her severely.  The words take the food of the children and throw it are strong, unless I remember that Jesus is not a magician raising his wand.  He was not even on a missionary journey, but fleeing a warrant on his head.  And I remember how the Bible speaks of Canaanites.  But I need to hear how the Canaanites speak of themselves, and then I need to say it firmly to my listeners today: Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.  In other words, they are not outside in the yard but inside the house, part of the family.  I even think that the Christians back then who heard it found it just as astounding as we do today. 
  • Climax: O woman, great is your faith!  We hear Jesus and we come to agree with him. 
  • Message for our assembly: Now it is our turn.  Is our faith that great?
  • I will challenge myself: To describe the humility and determination of the Canaanite woman, as a model for our own faith.  After all, we are Gentiles, too.

Word to Eucharist: Let us come forward joyfully, celebrating like the people welcomed back from exile.  Let us take our place before the Lord with the same determination that the Canaanite woman showed him.

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