Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). (4)

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A).

Theme: Flip the Script on Ethnocentrism!

By: Father Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA


Our gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28) is a discourse between Jesus, his disciples, and a Canaanite woman. The exchange between them highlights the priority of the Jews in the plan of salvation, demonstrates what strong faith looks like (Matthew 14:22–33), answers the question regarding ritual purification (Matthew 15:2), and asks us to join Jesus in breaking down the walls of ethnocentrism and prejudice among the children of God.

The Canaanite woman approached Jesus, saying, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). The Canaanites were Israel’s bitter enemies. Matthew qualified her as a “Canaanite” to underline that she is not Jewish and belongs to Israel’s ancient and bitter enemy.

Jesus totally ignored her, but his disciples appealed directly to him about her, asking him to send her away. But Jesus tells them that salvation is offered first to the Jews. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). In other words, the people of Israel have gone astray, and he has come to rescue them.

The woman approached Jesus a second time, this time with the most heartfelt gestures. She knelt before him and begged, “Lord, help me.” But Jesus declined, saying, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). In other words, he will not grant her request because she is not Jewish.

On the surface, referring to gentiles as dogs and Israelites as children appears harsh and ethnocentric, yet it is a parable. After all, parables use the known to teach about the unknown. In this case, Jesus wishes to underline the priority of the Jewish people in the divine plan of salvation.

It’s a parable about dogs eating food that falls off the table as the children eat. Jesus is saying that the Jews should be treated preferentially at the table, above the scavenging dogs. Instead of becoming offended, the woman completes the parable. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” (Matthew 15:27).

The Canaanite woman accepted Israel’s priority. But she exhibited great faith, which moved Jesus, by asking him to fulfill the future and plan of salvation for the gentiles now by healing her daughter. Jesus replied, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28).

We can learn what it means to have great faith from the Canaanite woman, which is a humble and honest acceptance of God’s plan. She reminds us that true prayer is honest communication with God, which sometimes involves expressing our own desires but accepting the will of God. Finally, she teaches us that an “outsider,” a Gentile woman, is capable of great faith, unlike an “insider,” such as Peter.

The geographical setting of Jesus’ conversation with this Canaanite woman is an important element of today’s gospel story. Matthew simply says that Jesus withdrew to the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon. And since the woman “came forth” from that place, it suggests that she may have encountered Jesus in her “pagan” territory.

In the story of Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 14:22–33), after the storm had subsided, the disciples came ashore at Gennesaret, and the locals, recognizing Jesus, brought their sick to him (Matthew 14:22–33). Perhaps the Canaanite woman was among those who sought healing from Jesus.

In the passage preceding today’s gospel text, some Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem asked Jesus: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They eat without washing their hands” (Matthew 15:2). This is not a question about hygiene but about ritual purification.

Ritual purification is how defilement from contact with unclean people or things can be removed. In response to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean” (Matthew 15:11). Amen.

Additionally, purity laws are a way of saying that everyone and everything have their proper place, and everyone and everything should be in their proper place. It means that someone or something becomes ritually unclean when they cross a boundary and end up where they shouldn’t be.

The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a response to the question of the Pharisees and scribes. By entering Gentile territory, Jesus has not only crossed a purity boundary but also a geographical boundary between Jewish people and Gentiles. In essence, Jesus is challenging labels and prejudice among the children of God.


I believe that if Saint Paul observed the divisions among Christians and Christian denominations today, he might write the following: “There are neither Catholics nor Episcopalians, Baptists nor Methodists, Lutherans or Anglicans, etc., for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, Jesus entry into Gentile territory is a turning point in salvation history. Salvation is available to everyone.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14). It is the Spirit of God that makes us children of God, and we receive the Spirit of God at baptism. Therefore, irrespective of their Christian denomination, every person who has received baptism is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and is a child of God.

Dear friends, it is time to flip the script on ethnocentrism, or barriers of prejudice, division, and mutual suspicion among God’s children in the name of Christian denominations. Let us therefore ask God for the grace and strength to build bridges of love, tolerance, reconciliation, and mutual respect among all the children of God or the Christian denominations. Amen.


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