Sunday, Aug. 17, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A).
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
The key to understanding today’s Gospel is to realize that Jesus Christ is God, and the Canaanite woman knows it.
The Gospel can sound harsh if you don’t understand that. First, when the woman calls out to Jesus for help, he says nothing to her. When she won’t leave him alone, his disciples ask Jesus to get rid of her, and he seems to try to do just that, telling her he is only there for the Jews.
Then, when she still won’t leave him alone, he says, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Only when she accepts his “dog” analogy does he relent and give her the cure she is looking for.
It can seem that Christ is being rude and unnecessarily harsh. But if you recall that Christ is God, that problem disappears.
Explained St. John Chrysostom, “Christ’s words were not spoken as an insult. Instead, they were spoken for the purpose of calling forth her virtue and revealing the great treasure of faith that she had within.”
She knows Jesus can help her, so she asks. She refuses to give up. When he compares her to a dog, she accepts that she is far below the level of God. She knows God has been giving her what she needs her whole life long and bets that he won’t stop now.
Her bet pays off. “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus says. “Let it be done for you as you wish.”
The woman has done the fundamental thing that is necessary in prayer: She has let God be God, instead of putting herself in his place.
It is easy to pray to God like he is just waiting for our commands. We want him to do things our way; we often think that his job is to be loyal to us, forgive our mistakes and be ready to step in when things get bad for us.
Ironically, we think it sounds rude to call the Canaanite woman a dog, but the way we treat God is often just like the way we treat a really great dog.
The rest of the readings this Sunday try to cure us of that attitude. They are a celebration of God, the great Master, whose commands bring us happiness.
Don’t be disturbed by today’s Gospel. Remember: “He knew what she would say,” so Jesus let the Canaanite woman show her faith to the world. We pray we can rise to her level and do the same.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.