Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20, 2017
A 20-year-old man from Maumee, Ohio, has added his name to the growing list of hate mongers. Last Saturday, motivated by racial prejudice, he committed a heinous crime against humanity. Responding to the call of like-minded white supremacists, he traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to join in a “white nationalist rally.” The fringe group was inflamed by the decision of local government to remove the statue of Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee from a city park. Using an automobile as an instrument of terror, the young man intentionally drove into a crowd of counter-protestors, gathered to resist the evil that had descended upon their community. So far, he is accused of causing one death. He injured at least 19 other people. There is only one thing that could motivate this young person from northwestern Ohio to do such a thing. Hatred!
Even before the act of vehicular terrorism, the tone of the protest was shocking to the conscience. It took enormous courage on the part of the women and men to stand in opposition to the malignancy that invaded their city. They must have known that there would be trouble, but they took the risk to stand up for a just cause.
Likewise, it took enormous courage for a Canaanite woman to muscle her way through a crowd in order to get close enough to Jesus to call out: Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David.
Referring to Him as “Son of David” might have been intended as her acknowledgment, or admission, that The Lord was different than she. The un-named woman was a foreigner, a pagan who did not belong in, or could not have expected to be warmly welcomed by this Jewish crowd. In fact, she exposed herself to both ridicule as well as the possibility of bodily harm just by being there.
What was her motivation? Love!
A mother’s love for her child emboldened the woman to mingle with a crowd that might well have turned their prejudice, mistrust, and dislike of someone “different” into violence. Mother’s love gave her courage but did not earn her a place in the Gospels. It was her faith that caused her name to be added to the long list of Gospel heroes.
When she first approached Him, Jesus responded to her as the “supremacists” in the crowd would have expected. It’s next to impossible to imagine Jesus using a harsh voice, but His words, nevertheless, must have stung. Reading the minds of the people who thought themselves better than her, The Lord echoed their bigotry and contempt. He called her a dog! And the people who overheard most likely nodded their heads in agreement and cheered Him on….just like the people who inspired and encouraged the young man from Maumee, Ohio. Vicious crowds tend to be like that. Those who hate encourage others to join in their hate.
But her need was great, her love for her daughter all-consuming, and her faith unshakable. And so, at great risk to her personal safety, she persisted. It was then that Jesus took the risk.
It was a risk for Him to recognize her and “elevate” her status. It was an even greater risk for Him to compliment her faith. “Supremacists” tend to be completely intolerant. The Lord’s acceptance of this woman was enough to drive many would-be followers away. Jesus’s admiration of the woman’s faith could well have triggered…on the spot…violence against Him. As it was, the memory of this encounter with a pagan foreigner lingered and festered in dark minds and could well have been included in the Good Friday false testimony against Him. But the memory of the incident has quite the opposite effect on people of good will. The interaction between Jesus and the pagan woman is a lesson in tolerance and acceptance, as well as the need to be persistent in seeking what is good.
Once He had everyone’s attention, The Lord took the opportunity to teach about the absolute supremacy of faith. His lesson is totally consistent with The Old Testament. In our First Reading, Isaiah explains that those who live in just faith, regardless of their origin, will be rewarded. This lesson is not unique to Isaiah, but is consistent with the teachings of all of the Prophets and in harmony with our Second Reading.
St. Paul, himself, was once a “nationalist” who actively persecuted Christians. But then he encountered The Risen Christ and embraced the Gospel! He came to understand that God does not take sides. God does not label us the way we label one another. God does not afford a privileged status to one group over another, but reaches out to all people in love and with infinite mercy and kindness.
And that is exactly how Jesus responded to this foreign woman so filled with faith. He looked at her with love and mercy.
I think maybe the status of these three Readings needs to be elevated. I think it’s especially important that we take today’s lesson we are offered on this 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time from the page and plant it firmly in our minds and our hearts. We are living through times where hate, prejudice, discrimination, and violence are becoming almost routine. People possessed by demons…not thinking clearly…are doing horrific things. It is the duty of Christians to resist all of this growing darkness, even if it means taking risks.
For the love of Christ and the Gospel, it is incumbent upon disciples to courageously persist in speaking out against all things contrary to God’s supreme law of love. And there is no better prayer than the words of the heroic risk-taker from today’s Gospel: Have pity on us Lord, Son of David.
Be persistent in praying those powerful words and our faith will drive the demons from our midst.