Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: GREAT FAITH OF THE LEAST
By: REV FR GERALD MUOKA
Homily for Sunday August 19 2020
R1- Is 56:6-7
Resp. Ps.- Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8;
R2- Rom 11:13-15, 29-32;
Gospel- Matt 15:21-28
In his homily reflections, *_Words of Encouragement,*_ Fr Benard Ukwuegbu,
narrated a story of the Pope of humour, John XXIII, who once received in audience a very fat and heavy (orobo-iburibu) woman from the Far East. Amazed at the huge mass of human flesh before his presence, the Pope asked: “My daughter, what brings you to Rome?” “Faith your holiness!’ She replied. “Only faith has brought me to Rome!” To this the Pope retorted: “Christ was right indeed! Faith can really move mountains.”
Beloved in Christ, in today’s Gospel reading, we see the Canaanite woman’s models of Great faith; persistent resilience; phenomenal patience; amazing humility and a rock pick strike that broke the barriers of age-long hatred between the Jews and the Canaanites. Only faith can achieve such feat, since faith is the guarantee of things we hope for and the certainty of the things we do not see (Heb. 11:1). Faith indeed can move mountains, because, in the presence of God, even the mountains shall melt like wax (Micah 1:4; Ps. 95:7).
*UNDERSTANDING THE INTRICACIES OF THE GOSPEL READING.*
In today’s passage, we learn that Jesus and His disciples left the region of Galilee and went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon, precisely, Canaan, a popular ancient enemies of Israel.
There, a Canaanite woman recognized him as the Messianic son of David. She sought help from Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus tested her faith and patience with an initial silence and the following response: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.”
The Greek version uses “κυναρίοις-kunariois” – a puppy; more like a pet-baby-dog. The woman, undettered, immediately matched wits with Jesus. Her argument runs like this:
Pets are not outsiders but insiders. They not only belong to the family but are part of the family. While they do not have a seat at the table, they enjoy intimacy at the family’s feet. Hence, Jesus finally healed her daughter and tagged her, ” *a woman of great faith.”*
The fundamental question is: Why did Jesus describe her faith as “GREAT”?
A brief biblical survey of the land of Canaan will enable us understand and equally have a deeper insight into this woman’s heroic gestures.
*THE LAND OF CANAAN*
(a)The land of Canaan in the Bible refers to the ancient geographical area God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants.
(Gen. 17:8; Ex. 6:4)
(b) The Canaanites were ancient enemies of Israel. The Canaanites were the ones that Israel had battled thousands of years ago, going all the way back to Joshua and the Israelites’ entrance into the Promised Land, to the point that God had once commanded Israel to “utterly destroy”
(c) Canaanite is mostly a Gentile, or non-Jewish, region.
So, Canaanites had no business hanging out with Jewish people, be they the Messiah or not. They rather die, than seek their help.
The Canaanites and the Israelites didn’t go to Eke, Afor, Nkwo and Orie, Alaba, Ariari, Ochanja, Sabo Ngari Markets or Shoprites together. Never, they didn’t even share a keke or taxi; they didn’t marry one another; they didn’t play on the same football team; they wanted nothing to do with each other. They were ancient enemies (Gen. 10:19).
(d) Scripture depicts the people of Canaan as idolatrous and superstitious.
They worshiped Baal, Dagon, Asherah, Astarte, and the pantheon of the Canaanite deities (Deut. 29:17).
(e) The Canaanites not only worshiped numerous foreign deities, they were known to be extremely immoral, calamitous and wicked (Lev. 18:27).
*ESTEEMED VIRTUES OF THE CANAANITE WOMAN.*
The above biblical analysis of Canaan, together with her humble and benign dispositions, enables one to understand why Jesus described her as a woman of ” *GREAT* ” faith; and why we should appraise and imitate the Canaanite woman’s MODELS of Christianity.
She really transcended all these barriers and stumbling blocks in search of Jesus. She was indeed a virtuous woman of great faith
According to Barclay, in her heroic display of actions are the manifestations of the Theological Virtues, viz: Faith, Hope and Love (1 Cor.13:13)
It was love that made her accept the misery of her child as her own, even to the point of accepting being addressed as a puppy. It was love that made her seek help from a Jew.
It was faith which made her accept Jesus as the Son of David. What many Jew could not do till date
This woman had indomitable persistent and undiscourageable hope. She came to Jesus because Jesus was not just a possible helper; He was her only hope. She came with a passionate hope.
As we understand this passage, we will seek to grasp four outstanding behaviors or actions: three from this Canaanite woman and one-most favourable from Jesus. THEY ARE REPRESENTED BY *4Rs*:
R = RECOGNITION
R = RESILIENCE
R = RECONCILIATION
R = REDEMPTION
This Canaanite woman recognized who Jesus was, when she declared, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!..
Jesus was Jewish and not all Jews till today recognize Him as the “Christos”, the anointed son of David.
But this heathen and pagan woman knew and believed in Jesus and trusted in Him.
Even today, so many Christians do not recognize His worth.
However, we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Do we recognize Jesus the Messiah? Do we as Christians know who He is? Do we know what he can Do? Do we know He can heal you? Do we know He can save us from our sin? Do we recognize Him as the Son of David and the Son of God?
~Bartimeus recognized Him and his story changed (Mk.1:47-52).
~ The woman with hemorrhage recognized Him and her story changed (Mtt. 9:20-22).
~ The paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida recognized Him and was made whole again (Jn.5:1-9).
Remember, in His presence, there is no impossibility (Lk. 1:37). Just recognize him as your personal Lord and Saviour, then your story will change (Rom. 10:9-10)
This woman by her words and actions, broke the ancient barriers of rift, hatred anarchy and bias between the Jews and their age long enemies, the Canaanites.
In the second reading, we equally heard Paul’s expression of joy and pride in ministering to the Gentiles against the wish of the Jews.
The first reading too, the prophecy of Isaiah, reminds us that, God’s care extends beyond the bounds of race and nation to the hearts of all who live, and God’s House should become a House of Prayer for all peoples.
We need to pull down our walls of separation, hatred, dispute, family/community/tribal discrimination and nepotistic tendencies and share in the universality of God’s love: Very often we set up walls which separate us from God and from one another.
Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography tells how and why he never became a Christian, despite his admiration of Jesus as his mentor. According to him, his days in South Africa as a young Indian lawyer, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, the caste system. Seriously considering embracing the Christian faith, Gandhi went to a white-only church one Sunday morning, intending to talk to the pastor about the idea. When he entered the Church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship in another church with his own colored people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”
We can equally ask ourselves, “how often have we allowed generational, inter-generational and trans-generational barriers block our view or others in accessing reality and truth?”
*(3)THE RESILIENT WOMAN*
Here is a woman who learnt “to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk.18:1).
In her prayers, she refused to take “SILENCE or NO” for an answer. She was resilient!
Even, the seemingly “insult” of being called a “puppy” from Jesus, got her undeterred.
Infact, the resilient response was unpredictable, “Yes, Lord,” she said, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
She does not give up believing that Jesus can help her! She does not lose hope and trust in Jesus!
The woman’s great faith equally encourages us ” *NEVER TO GIVE UP”* in our daily struggles and to remain positive.
Many years ago, in Illinois, USA, a young man with six months formal schooling to his credit, ran for an office in the legislature. As might have been expected, he was beaten. Next, he entered business but failed in that too, and spent the next seventeen years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady, they became engaged – and she got sick and died, causing her lover a mini nervous breakdown. He ran for Congress and was defeated. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office but didn’t succeed. He became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated in a race for the Senate. He ran for President and finally was elected. That man was Abraham Lincoln.
The resilience of the Canaanite woman yielded the fruit of her REDEMPTION
*(4) JESUS’ REDEMPTION*
Then Jesus replied to her, “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.” And from that moment her daughter was healed.
Note that the confluence point between the woman’s request and Jesus’ redemption: it was faith. Because the woman had great faith she experienced the power of Jesus.
Finally, a certain community that had suffered years of drought and famine, organised a community liberation prayer. The prayer assembly was startled by the gesture of a young boy of 8 who graced the liberation prayer with an umbrella.
People who saw him, confronted and scolded him for being stupid by coming out with an umbrella, where they have had 3 years of drought. The young boy surprised them with the following words, “we are gathered to pray for rain. God will send us rain na, and I will use the umbrella to take refuge.”
They immediately started receiving sense of faith.
Oh, what a startling faith that comes where it is least expected. *GREAT INDEED, IS THE FAITH OF THE LEAST!*
MAY GOD GIVE YOU THE FAITH TO BELIEVE IN HIS SAVING POWER, ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE. AMEN.
*GOD BLESS YOU!*
FR GERALD MUOKA