Sunday, 20 August 2017 : Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we listened to the words of the Sacred Scriptures speaking to us a very important message which all of us should heed, that we as Christians will be better able to appreciate our faith and understand it. It is about God calling all of His people to His salvation, to receive the mercy, forgiveness and love from His own hands, through their repentance and coming to Him.

This is the theme of this Sunday’s Scripture passages, that God as the Lord of all the nations and all the peoples are calling us to follow Him, that no matter what race belong to, what background or nationality we have, and no matter whether we are rich or poor, powerful or weak, famous or unknown, all these do not matter at all before the Lord. What matters is that, all of us mankind are considered by God to be His children, His beloved ones, and He wants us all to be reconciled to Him.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard of the interaction between the Lord Jesus and a Canaanite woman, or a Syro-Phoenician woman, as that woman came not from the land of Judea, where the Jewish people live, and neither did she belong to the nation of the Jews, not counted among the direct descendants of Jacob or Israel. And as the woman begged the Lord Jesus to heal her daughter who had been tormented by a demon, it must have seemed very strange indeed that the Lord Jesus would refuse her request.

And even more so, He also seemingly denigrated her and mocked her by saying the words such as, ‘It is not right to take the bread from the children, and throw it to the puppies, or dogs.’ Did Jesus just compare the woman to a mere animal as opposed to a human being? Were we right in what we have just listened to? Was there a mistake in the writing of the Scriptures and the Gospels?

No, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the case. In fact, this is where we should take note of the real intention of the Lord as He said those words to the Canaanite woman, in front of His disciples and the people. As the Lord Who knows everything in the minds and in the hearts of His people, Jesus clearly know what it is that the woman believed in, and how she would respond to His words. And Jesus wanted to show His disciples and the people, how foolish it is for them to believe in what they were believing in at that time.

For you see, that the Jewish people at that time believed that they were the ones whom God had chosen just as their ancestors have been God’s chosen people, from the time of Abraham to his descendants, and then to the time of the Exodus from Egypt and finally to the time of the kingdom of Israel and Judah. They were the descendants of the Israelites and the people of Judah, and therefore, they were very proud of their heritage and history.

However, over time they ended up becoming proud and egoistic about their special privileges and status, and they looked down on the other peoples, those pagan peoples living around them, treating them as inferior to themselves, and even as those who are not worthy of the love and grace of God. They considered those people to be hopeless and without any opportunity to be saved by God. They became exclusivist in their faith and closed the doors of the faith from others.

That was why they showed that attitude, the haughtiness and the lack of respect for others, which the Lord Jesus wanted to point out to the people, through His interaction with the Canaanite woman. What Jesus showed the people through His own words was that they often thought that they alone were worthy of God’s goodness and salvation, and that they treated others literally like that of dogs, or less than humans, as Jesus showcased it perfectly through His interaction with the woman.

At that time, for someone of Jewish origin to sit together or be around a Gentile, or a non-Jew was considered to be inappropriate. The Jews did not want to have anything to do with the Gentiles, and rejected them and dismissed the faith that they actually had in the Lord. The Jews were not even allowed to enter into the house of the Gentiles and also to the house of those considered as sinners.

That was why the army centurion, likely to be a Gentile or non-Jew, kindly requested the Lord to just say the word to heal his servant, as he considered himself unworthy to have a Jew like Jesus to enter his house, considered taboo at that time among the Jewish society. And in the same manner, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law criticised Jesus severely when He went to eat in the house of tax collectors and prostitutes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, yet, those people forgot that God is not just God over the people of Israel, but in fact, He is God over all of mankind, over the entire race of man. He is the Lord and Master of all, and He created all of us out of love, without exception. Otherwise, why would He create us in the first place if He does not love us or have concern about us?

God loves each and every one of us, and wants everyone to love Him with equal intensity and zeal. In fact, as the Gospel showed us, the love and faith which the supposedly pagan and non-Jewish Canaanite woman was greater than the faith which many of the Israelites had shown towards Jesus. While many of the Jews were skeptical and some were even downright hostile in opposition against Jesus, His teachings and His truths, the woman put herself completely in the hands of God, trusting that Jesus would hear her and heal her daughter. This shows that what matters is faith, and not one’s origins or backgrounds.

The same applied to the army centurion, and many other cases of the Gentiles and the pagans who came to love and be faithful towards God, even exceeding beyond what the Jewish people themselves had done. In this manner, God wanted to show them, and also all of us, that He does not favour anyone by the manner of their racial background, by their appearances, status, or by their worldly standings, or by their connections, but rather, by the faith which the people have in Him, and by the righteousness that they have shown in life.

God wants to remind each and every one of us, that we must not be shortsighted in life, that we become prejudiced against others just because we think that we are better than so and so because of our wealth, riches, power, privileges and all the other things that led us to be biased and be prejudiced against our brethren. This is what we must not do, brothers and sisters in Christ, because as Christians all of us are called to love one another equally as fellow brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

This is important as in our world today, as it had been in the past, mankind have caused great grievances and sufferings because of their prejudice and hatred, bias and anger against each other. We have seen how people used race and background as an excuse to oppress others, to impose one’s will on another, and to exploit and manipulate those who are weak, less fortunate and less powerful. We have seen just how the NAZIs and the many other wicked organisations in our history had committed blatant and great injustice against all humanity, in their genocidal pursuits, destroying the livelihood of others in the name of their prejudices.

And we have certainly heard of what had just happened very recently in the city of Charlottesville in the United States of America, where violent riot had arisen because of the actions of those who championed prejudice and injustice in order to advance their own selfish and irresponsible desires. We heard about those who used racism, prejudice and hatred against people of different backgrounds and beliefs, even those who do not shy away from violence while doing so.

And what should we do then, brothers and sisters in Christ? Perhaps the Scripture readings we heard today and the recent events are reminders sent to us by God, in order to tell us that as Christians it is our duty and obligation to stand up against all these attitudes and wickedness, against all those who have shown prejudices, biases and racist or divisive acts in their lives. We cannot be silent or be ignorant against all these people, and we cannot remain quiet in the face of those who cause suffering on others because of their wicked and distorted way of life.

At the same time, we should also inspect our own lives and recall our actions and deeds in life. Have we been prejudiced against others because we thought that we are better than them? Have we ever been angry against others as we saw them receive things we did not have, because we thought they did not deserve it and we deserved it better than them? If we have done all these, then perhaps it is time for us to move on and turn away from all those jealousies, prejudices and hatred, and instead embrace each other in love, peace and harmony.

Let us all from now on be bearers of God’s love into this world, reminding ourselves always that God loves each and every one of us without exception, and all of us are created and considered equal before Him. Let us all not be filled with our ego, our pride and haughtiness, thinking that we are in any way superior to others, but instead let us be loving and be compassionate to others, especially those who are struggling in their faith. Let us stand up to be different from those who advocated hatred and prejudice, and pray for them, that God may change their darkened hearts into new hearts filled with love. May God bless us all and bring us to grow ever stronger in our faith in Him. Amen.

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