Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 65; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
We have three sets of homily notes to choose from. Please scroll down the page.
Fr. Paul Oredipe : No ‘Reserved’ Seats in God’s Kingdom
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: Salvation is for all
Fr. Thomas Oyode: “The Lord has Prepared a Table for all Peoples”
Rev Fr. Paul Oredipe
NO ‘RESERVED’ SEATS IN GOD’S KINGDOM
All of us are familiar with the practice of reserving special seats for V. I. P.s at different occasions. In our human assessment we allot special places to particular personalities and hold them in high esteem. We also have favourites, even among friends and relatives. This is something we admire and cherish so much.
However this is one of the ways in which God is so much different from us. “… my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh. For the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is. 55: 8 & 9).
It took Peter himself sometime after the resurrection and ascension of Christ to realize this. As he himself declared in the house of the Roman Centurion – Cornelius (according to the account in Chapter 10 of the Acts which led to the baptism of the first gentiles): “I now really understand, he said, that God has no favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10: 34-35)
This hard truth lies at the center of our liturgy today. It is presented in the readings we have just heard. The text of Isaiah that we read today illustrates the universality of salvation.
After the Hebrews returned from exile in Babylon, they found many foreigners, not of the Jewish religion living there. The writer of our first reading today (whoever he was – be it the anonymous prophet called Third Isaiah) had to face this changed situation. His mind goes out to the future, an unknown future. He speaks of foreigners who do not know the one true God and yet is convinced that somehow or other they will ‘attach themselves to the Lord’ and that they will be able to enter the covenant, and worship and pray in the Temple which will then be a ‘house of prayer for all the peoples’ and not just for the Jews.
God does not measure the mercy that God pours forth in this world according to whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. God’s love goes out to all of us as Isaiah said in the first lesson when he gave that new vision to the chosen people and they were rebuilding their temple: “No longer is it going to be just for the Jews. My temple is going to be a house of prayer for all peoples, for everyone.” God’s love is without limits.
In the second reading we hear St. Paul’s optimism about his fellow Jews who refused to accept Christ. “God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice” so Paul assures us. If we return to Him we can be sure of obtaining mercy. Because the Jews have for the most part rejected the Gospel, Paul has reluctantly become an apostle to the Gentiles. The only explanation Paul can come up with is that God has allowed the infidelity of the Jews so that salvation might be offered to the Gentiles. But then, as Paul said, the refusal of the Jews will not last forever. A day will come when Israel will also bow to Jesus.
The story in the Gospel, at first sight, might be somewhat embarrassing. A woman in great need approached and called on Jesus. This woman was not only a gentile and a pagan but (as if to make matters worse) she belongs to a nation noted for its traditional hostility to the Jewish people. At first Jesus seems reluctant to have anything to do with her and keeps her at arm’s length, but the woman persists, refusing to take ‘No’ for an answer.
According to the account in Mark’s gospel, the first encounter took place in a house, and it was here that the woman ‘fell down at his feet.’ (Mk 7: 24-25) It seemed as if Our Lord did not pay any attention to her. Later on, when Jesus and his companions were getting ready to leave the house, Matthew writes that the disciples complained to Jesus about this woman’s crying.
The woman never gave up. She perseveres in her clamour, but the response of Jesus seems curiously cold: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. … It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.” These were indeed powerful words and a hard test for that matter. One can only conclude that the strength to overcome such test, to pass such a compressed and comprehensive examination must have come only by divine grace.
By appearing to be harsh, He so strengthens the woman’s faith that she deserves exceptional praise: “Great is your faith.” Our own conversation with Christ should be like that: Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.
The woman is not only a gentile, but a descendent of the Canaanites, one of Israel’s oldest and most despised enemies. Because she is a Canaanite, the woman in today’s Gospel is despised by the Jewish community. But Jesus does not see in her an old enemy. He sees in her great compassion and love for her sick daughter, a loving mother. He sees in her courage to come forward in the face of imminent rejection and denunciation, a woman of great faith. The Lord calls every person who possesses such compassion and love, regardless of nationality or heritage or stereotype or label, to his holy mountain.
There are two things which stand out very clearly in this woman’s attitude and approach to Jesus:
– She was persistent: not giving up.
– She was not merely asking the favour for herself alone. She was speaking out of the agony of love for another. Notice the lovely sequence of thought: “have pity on me [because] my daughter is terribly troubled.” The mother has identified herself with her suffering daughter. The instant healing was a reward for her faithful perseverance and intense love.
The point in all these is not ambiguous at all. In the words of a friend, God has no grandchildren. We are all children of God, loved alike, not more or less for anything. And as I heard in the words of a song: ‘take a look at yourself, and you can look at others differently.” What we can only count on is the mercy and goodness of God. Only God can see and know us through and through, seeing to the hidden depths of our being. It is never too late to give up whatever prejudice or exclusive mentality we may have acquired.
As Timothy reminds us: It is God’s will that all men may be saved and come to know the truth. (1 Tim 2:4). The point is that God’s mercy and love is available to all who call out to Him in faith. That is what is at the heart of the gospel passage.
In Christ all divisions and differences between people are irrelevant. You might remember Paul’s passage in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. All are one in Christ.” God’s mercy is extended to all who call upon Him in faith. God loves each one of us despite ourselves. God loves us without condition, reservation or limit. The only response we can make to such love is to try, somehow, to return it: loving one another despite our disappointments and the hurts we inflict on one another, loving one another whether we deserve it or not, loving one another as God, the Father of all, loves us.
The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel is a figure of great courage, love and perseverance. She was not in the least rebuffed. As quickly as a dog snatches a morsel of meat that is thrown to it, she eagerly seized upon his remark in order to score a good point on her own behalf and, in doing so, won from our Lord both his admiration for her faith and the granting of her request.
It is good for us to consider from time to time, the people we see as less than ourselves. Then we need to remember God’s love for them and His call for us to reflect that love as well. This week we can examine our own prejudices and the ways we cause separation and division by what we say or do, or the example we give. We can look first for the good in those around us, especially when we are tempted to stop looking when we see the flaws. We can suspend judgment on those closest to us, our sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, friends and co-workers, simply loving them and looking for the good that is there.
Jesus Himself looked past the Canaanite woman. Through her persistence He and His disciples came to see the faith and love that was in her. We can take another look at those around us and realize that we are all children of God, and called to treat one another that way.
That’s what Jesus is teaching us today, that if we listen, even to someone who seems not to be the one we would expect to be teaching us, we will find peace. If we listen to one another in our world, in our family, in our church, and we allow ourselves to be changed, then what we need to happen will happen. We will discover peace within our heart, within our family and in our world.
I would like to end with a story: situation of apartheid in South Africa. A black lady passing by could not be allowed to enter a Church and join in the melodious celebration. Hence she went aside and began to weep bitterly. Someone appeared to her (Christ) and asked: ‘why crying’? She told her story.
This fellow replied: ‘not even I can go in there’ ‘not even I can go in there’.
“Where two or three are gathered in MY NAME, there I am in their midst.”
Is Christ in our assembly here today? DO we gather in HIS NAME, recognizing others as the same children of God? Is there any form, any prejudice, division, segregation and oppression in our assembly?
May the Lord be with us today as we worship and praise through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Salvation is for all
The central theme in our readings of today is God’s salvation plan. The readings illustrate that salvation is for all. The Gospel applies to all people and it is extended to all people. Beloved, no one is outside of God’s invitation or His salvation plan. In the first reading we are told that the Word of God is not only for the baptized but for all people. Isaiah says “And the foreigners I will bring to my holy mountain.” The psalm of today reminds us that God’s salvation is for everyone on earth. In the Gospel, Jesus in the region of Tyre and Sidon and his encounter with a Canaanite woman present us with one of the most striking experiences of ‘all inclusiveness’ written in scriptural tradition. Again, it depicts one of the few visits of Jesus outside the Jewish territory, and so it foreshadowed the missionary dimension of the gospel to the whole world. We must apply ourselves to this missionary dimension of our faith; we must go out to proclaim the Good News of salvation to everyone. Beloved, this gospel simply makes us to understand that salvation is not based on national identity but on the persevering faith of whoever believes in Jesus Christ.
The Canaanite woman in our gospel passage today was not a Jewess. She was a gentile and so she was regarded as a “pagan” by the Jews. For the Jews therefore, she does not merit salvation. The Gospel program is universal. It involves all and applies to all. Isaiah 45:22 says Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. God is willing to save all otherwise he would not have invited all. John 3:16 says For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God so loved the whole of creation; he did not just love some people. We can give countless number of places where God demonstrated his love for all people. If salvation therefore is for all people; it behooves us to stretch out our hands of faith and perseverance to receive this gift of salvation.
The Canaanite woman manifested faith. Faith is one of the necessary routes for salvation. The woman in the Gospel had faith and so she believed that Jesus could heal her daughter. Jesus in turn tested her faith and was moved by the depth of faith she expressed. Heb. 11:6 says without faith, it is impossible to please God. This means that you may pray and shout, climb mountain and enter valley, fast for 40 days and 40 nights, book all the masses and say novena prayers but without faith; it will be impossible to please God. Faith is the only pleasant ornament that attracts God. It is an irresistible perfume. Jesus Christ could not resist the faith of all those who approached him, thus, he would say to them “go your faith has healed you.” Friends in Christ, if faith pleases God it follows therefore that faithlessness displeases him. We go through stress because we don’t apply faith. Where faith is applied stress is reduced. Our tears do not move God; but faith does. Have faith!
Again, this woman persevered. She persevered even when the disciples became her obstacles. She did not give up. When Jesus gave her the offhand remark to put her off; she stood her ground. She knew what she wanted. We must not give up even when the Christian community militates against us. The woman’s goal was Christ not the disciples. Our goal is to seek Christ we should not fall for the distractions and scandals that exist within the Christian body. We should not give up our Christian vocation and prayer life because of the scandal of a brother or sister. Let us persist in faith. This is how men are made. Abraham persevered in faith for years before he got Isaac. Job, the righteous man persevered even when his wife offered a suggestion in Job 2:9; he refused and applied himself to the will of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth went through trauma before John came. They were mocked; in Luke 1:36 Elizabeth was regarded as the woman whom was termed barren. Beloved, never give up; Luke 21:19 says “By your endurance you will gain your lives”. Jesus rewarded this woman’s faith! If we persevere in faith we shall be rewarded. God bless you.
Rev. Fr. Fr. Thomas Oyode
“The Lord has Prepared a Table for all Peoples”
One of the major themes of the gospel of Matthew is the theme of the universality of the mission of salvation clearly expressed in Jesus’ last instruction to the eleven disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), “go make disciples of all nations, baptising them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”This very understanding can be a helpful key to our reflection on today’s gospel narrative which, as it were, bears a veritable connection with both the first and the second readings in today’s liturgy.
Matthew, himself an outsider, notorious for hisconspiracy with the Roman government to oppress his Jewish compatriots (a tax collector), tells us that Jesus was in a gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. This is a Canaanite community with whom Jesus’ ancestors, the Jews have sworn an ageless and an endless enmity. Jesus enters and pronto! A Canaanite comes to him on her knees, addressing him as Lord, Son of David and asking him to save her daughter who was under the torment of a demon, a demon probably because there was no medical explanation for the torment at the time. Surprisingly, Jesus ignores this woman, he walks on, he does not look back. Then he says to his disciples, with an air of self-assurance, that he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,and refers to her as a dog (a Jewish metaphor for a gentile). Interesting!Didn’t our reflection last Sunday lead us to seeing Jesus as one who heeds our cries and stills the storms of our lives? What has changed so soon? Why is the Messiah being cold to a poor woman and a stranger? We must understand here that Jesus’ comment was a reply to his disciples and not to the woman. It could mean, therefore, that he wanted them and everyone who could hear him, to learn a lesson. The lesson lies in the age long truth that the Jews were the beloved of Yahweh, custodians and beneficiaries of the Covenant and the ultimate Salvation to be wrath by the expected Messiah. However, they have not only lost this heritage, they were also mistaken. This is precisely the import of today’s second reading (Rom. 11:13-15.29-32). They were mistaken because God’s love, God’s desire to save is not restricted to any group., we are all beneficiaries of his grace and mercy irrespective of class, race or age.
The very character and personality of the Canaanite woman makes thiscrystal clear. She, a stranger, an outsider, an out cast, one who in no way can be mistaken for a daughter-of-the soil, comes before the son-of-the soil, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, kneels before him and acknowledges him as Lord, Son of David. It would be recalled that thoughin last Sunday’s gospel account, the disciples had acknowledged Jesus as Son of God, they would later show that they were not fully convinced(see Matt. 16:16) as it would take the light of divine revelation for Peter to declare boldly that Jesusindeed is the Messiah, the Saviour. Thus, a woman and a stranger could convincingly see Jesus as the Messiah-King and kneel before him, a sign of worship and reverence just like the Magi. Her kneeling is an expression both of humility and of irrepressible desire. She is also the first to break through racial and ethnic boundaries since she knew quite well that Jesus was a full blooded Jew, an enemy. Only a heart filled with love could make such a move, love breaks boundaries.
Now, love is an expression of faith. Faith is not an exclusive preserve of any group or class of persons., it is a gift from God exercised through acts of charity and justice before God and man. This is the only qualification for anyone who holds claim to membership of God’s family. Those who are so qualified have the promise of God’s bountiful blessings and graciousness precisely as declared in today’s first reading (Is. 56:1.6-7).Jesus, therefore, was teaching his disciples and all of us, that in and through this woman, God’s will is being fulfilled, that he has come to save all mankind. Faith and love turned the table around for this woman. She knew she was not a title to the Jewish heritage but she knew even more that that was not the most important requisite for enjoying God’s blessings and so she pressed on to ask for scraps from the table which further expresses her trust in God’s predisposed largesse for all his children. The table reminds us of the Eucharist, Christ’s unreserved donation of Himself Body, Soul and Divinity.Our desire to share at this Table should be so strong and sincere as to defy every obstacle. We may find suchobstacles in our sense of sinfulness and reluctance to go to confession. We find it also in our unwillingness to convalidate our marriages.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us that we may learn to build a united family of God our Father as we share at the Table of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Amen.