LORD, HELP ME
A biblical reflection on THE 20th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 20 August 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28
First Reading: Isaiah 56:1,6-7; Psalms: Psalm 67:2-3,5-6.8; Second Reading: Romans 11:13-15,29-32
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not fair to take children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28 RSV)
The Jews had every reason to be proud that they were God’s chosen people. After all, they were God’s instruments and God was working through them in a special way. However, because of this pride, some Jews looked down at other people as being inferior and sometimes they even referred to Gentiles as dogs.
Some Jewish leaders thought this special relationship with God entitled them to certain honors and privileges. They believed the Messiah (also known as the Son of David because he was supposed to be a descendant of King David) would come only for the Jewish people. Through him, God would lead them in battle, defeat their enemies, and establish His Kingdom on earth. As a Jew, Jesus was familiar with this belief.
In today’s Gospel reading, a Canaanite woman calls Jesus the Son of David. Although she is not Jewish, she acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah because she wants Him to heal her daughter.
At first, Jesus does not reply to the woman. Later, He explains to her that He, the Messiah, is supposed to go to just those who belonged to the House of Israel (the Jews). The woman persists but Jesus does not give in. He replies that He cannot throw the food of the children (the Jews) to the dogs (the Gentiles), echoing the popular belief that the Messiah is just for the Jews.
The Canaanite woman is “stubborn” and she reminds Jesus that even the dogs get what the children do not want. The suggestion is clear. If the Jewish leaders won’t accept Him as the Messiah then maybe Jesus should turn to the Gentiles. Historically, that’s exactly what happened.
In the Acts of the Apostles and in Saint Paul epistles (letters), we find that the apostles first preached to the Jews but then turned to the Gentiles when fewer Jews than expected put their faith in Jesus. Like the woman in today’s Gospel, many Gentiles accepted Jesus and, as a result, Christianity spread throughout the world.
(Note: Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for loving everybody without reserve, including the Canaanite woman and myself. I pray that, by Your grace, I can become more like her. Help us to walk in her ways that, with joy and love, we may follow You and be united to You. I also give my life to You and I trust that You will remove the obstacles that keep me from loving You. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 August 2017
A Christian Pilgrim