Year A: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 15: 21-28
The Jesus we meet in today’s Gospel is not the Jesus we usually meet! At first sight, He seems a bit stand-offish when He ignores the Canaanite woman - and pretty rude in His initial answer to her pleas that He heal her child!
Matthew seems to be suggesting that, up until this point, Jesus Himself thought that His mission was only to the Jewish people. When He is confronted by a Canaanite - and a woman at that, He seems non-plussed.
Her sheer determination to make Him listen offers one of the most memorable encounters in the Gospels. In the end, He cannot ignore her. More to the point, Jesus is forced to acknowledge that her faith in Him is a match for that of any of the Jewish people He has met so far.
In the end, He heals her daughter.
How this encounter went in reality, we can’t know - but Matthew is obviously trying to make an important point.
He was writing to a community of Jewish Christians who had identified Jesus as the Messiah - the One promised to the Jewish people by God.
They were aware, though, that Christianity was attracting people of other races - other religions - and would, understandably, have been struggling to work out how this fitted in with the prophecies of a Messiah who was destined to save Israel.
The meeting between Jesus and the Canaanite woman offers them a clue about how to understand this. When Jesus is challenged to heal the outsider, His initial reaction is to refuse - but, then, He sees her great faith - and this far outweighs the fact that she does not belong to the people He came primarily to save.
So too the Jewish community were helped to see that their initial reluctance to admit outsiders was understandable - but then to see that God plants faith in others too - and that it is faith rather than race which opens the door into the Kingdom.
What does it mean for me?
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