Opening the Word: Salvation to Israel and the Nations

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Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite woman in the Gospel of Matthew is intended to trouble us. The Canaanite woman is outside of the Chosen People, not a daughter of Israel. And at first, Jesus pays little heed to her.

But let us read the text in another way, through the very eyes of the Canaanite woman. She knows that she is not a daughter of Israel, not a member of the Chosen People. And yet, she longs for healing for her daughter, salvation from the plague of sickness and death.

She calls out to Jesus as Lord and Son of David. Already, she exhibits her faith. She knows who Jesus is. She places herself in relationship to Christ. She pledges her servitude to Jesus as a son of Israel.

August 16 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 56:1, 6-7
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Mt 15:21-28

Christ is silent. How that Canaanite woman must have longed to have heard but one word from Jesus. The risk that she took in pledging her fidelity to him and thus to the Jewish people. But she hears nothing except the disciples, who tell her to go away. The disciples have not yet appropriated what they have heard from Christ, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Mt 5:4).

Jesus finally speaks. He has come for the house of Israel, to manifest the kingdom of God to the Chosen People. This is his mission!

And yet, the Canaanite woman persists. She bows down before Christ, paying him homage. She knows his mission, and she accepts it. But she wants to be part of it.

Jesus says to her that it is not right to take the food of children and bestow it to a little puppy, a house dog. The Canaanite woman does not bristle at this reference. She knows who she is relative to Israel. Israel remains the Chosen People, and she is pleased to be the little puppy at the table of God’s generosity.

This profession by the Canaanite woman is the manifestation of her faith. She gets it, far more than the apostles do. Christ has come to announce the kingdom of God to Israel and thus to all the nations. The response of the nations should be gratitude not only for Christ but an abiding respect for Israel as the Chosen People of God.

Dear friends, we are the descendants of that Canaanite woman. We are the little puppies eating the scraps of food off the table of the sons and daughters of Israel.

And yet, if you pay attention to a certain segment of Catholic Twitter, you see no respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters but an abiding contempt, even hatred. It is this contempt and hatred that has led to the persecution and even murder of the sons and daughters of Israel in every age.

As Catholics, as sons and daughters of the Canaanite woman, we must speak out against this hatred. We must fight against a renewal of that anti-Semitism that led to the murder of 6 million of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the 20th century.

Salvation, as St. Paul says in Romans, is given first to Israel and only later to us, the gentiles. Our salvation is tied together, linked to one another. God will save us both together, in a way that we cannot understand.

So, let us assume the posture of that Canaanite woman. Let us give thanks to Jesus, who is the son of David and Our Lord. And let us be grateful that the scraps from the table of Israel have been so generously bestowed to us.

 

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

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