Sunday, 17 August 2014 : 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we hear a very clear and concerted message from the Lord, on the faith of those who heard the word of God, acted on them and internalised these into their hearts, and became truly faithful to the Lord. And that was what the Lord tried to show the people in the reading taken from the Old Testament, how even foreigners would come and serve the Lord faithfully and became light among the nations, and in how Jesus dealt with the Canaanite woman who showed her genuine faith in God.

If one is to read just literally what Jesus did and said in the Gospel today, then he or she may think that what was Jesus thinking of saying such things? Surely He must know that He was acting arrogantly and totally insulted the poor Canaanite woman whose daughter was in difficulty? Was it what Jesus truly meant? What did He mean to do with those words? Was He not out of His character?

Yes, all these questions, doubts and uncertainties may come into our minds if we do not understand what Jesus wanted to do, and what He wanted to show the world, through both words and actions, in fulfillment of what the Lord had revealed through His prophets long ago. Jesus wanted to show all that the Lord cares not just for a certain group of people or chosen ones to the detriment of others, but instead, He cares for and loves all equally.

For ultimately, all of us had been crafted in the very image of God, and to us He had granted us the breath of life and authority even over the entire creation, and the entirety of this world and all the other creatures God had created. And therefore, all of us are essentially equal before God, and what truly differentiates us is the actions and deeds that we do in this life, on whether they follow or whether they are against God’s ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to understand the mentality of the Jews of Jesus’ time, and even that of other times. This will definitely help us to understand why Jesus did what He had done, and why He said things as He had said it to the Canaanite woman. We all know that Abraham had been blessed by God in the days long past, long before the coming of Jesus, and because of his great faith, God chose to bless him and his descendants.

And from among his descendants, God had chosen Isaac, the son whom God promised to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. To Ishmael, the other son of Abraham, whom he had with Hagar, his slave, the blessing of God was upon him and his descendants too, but not that of the same kind or degree as the inheritance given to Isaac, the heir of Abraham and his descendants.

And then, from among the two sons of Isaac, God had chosen Jacob, the younger son, to be Israel, the one whom He had chosen among the sons of Abraham as the progenitor of a people He chose among all the nations. To Esau, the elder son of Isaac, a lesser inheritance was given. This first caused great struggle and enmity between the brothers, but eventually they reconciled themselves.

The people of Israel was born from the twelve sons of Jacob, who eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel, and all of whom migrated to Egypt during the time of Joseph, and who were enslaved by the Pharaoh and the Egyptians until the salvation of the Lord came to them through His servant Moses. God performed His power before His people and their oppressors, liberating them and bringing them to the land He had promised their ancestors, Abraham and his sons.

As ages passed and years went by, the people of God alternated between faithfulness and rebelliousness to God, and as years passed on, they became more and more restless and unfaithful to the Lord who had blessed them so much, to be the examples for the other nations. Yes, this is what God intended for His people, that the ones He had chosen among many may be examples of faith and goodness, like their father Abraham of old, that others may also follow in their footsteps.

Instead, they looked upon their chosen status as a privilege and a sign of elite status, which they interpreted as themselves being the chosen people of God, as those who are superior, greater and better than all others, than all mankind who also dwell on this earth. This is the very root of the problem which the Lord, through His prophets, and through what Jesus did and said to the Canaanite woman, intended to do.

The Jews of Jesus’ time were the descendants of the returned exiles from Babylon, the survivors of the exile from the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They took pride of themselves as the guardians of the faith in the Lord, and many of them zealously looked down upon the others, especially those whom they considered as different from themselves, and who dwelled in the land with them. This was exactly why they looked down so much on the Samaritans and the Gentiles, namely the Canaanites and the Greeks.

The Canaanites were the descendants of those people who lived in the land of Israel since before the people of Israel received that promised land from the Lord. They were conquered and enslaved and treated badly by the people of Israel, but they managed to persevere throughout many ages and many years, and in today’s Gospel, one of them, a woman with a sickly daughter, sought help not from anyone else, but from the Lord Himself.

What Jesus said to the woman was in essence, intentionally trying to show the typical prejudice, stereotype and judgmental attitudes that many of the Jews of Jesus’ time had on these others, whom they deemed to be inferior than themselves and worthy of hellfire, just as much as they thought that their ‘devoutness’ is worthy of heaven. The disciples exhibited this attitude, and the Pharisees and the elders exhibited it to an even greater degree, even to the point of judging the Jews themselves of not being worthy if certain so and so fail to fulfill their ‘criteria’ of faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is the message and the aim that God desires from us in this Sunday’s readings? That we realise that our faith is faith, and our love is love, and our hope is hope, no matter who we are, what blood we have, or whose descendant we are. We are all the same human beings, sinners descended from Adam and Eve, whose disobedience brought us out of the glory of heaven, like those Israelites of the past who disobeyed God and be destroyed.

We have to throw away all forms of prejudices and judgments on others, regardless of who we are and what we have done in this life. We should never, ever look down on others who also sincerely look towards the Lord and especially those who are trying hard to reach out to God. Instead of looking down on them or scoffing at them, thinking that we are better than them, we should rather offer them a helping hand and a friendly hug, to welcome them into the kingdom of God together with us.

Jesus taught us that if we are faithful and devoted to God with true sincerity, we will all be called the chosen ones of the Lord, and become His beloved children. That was why He praised the Canaanite woman’s great faith, as example for all others who followed and listened to Him. It is because that woman had such a faith not even possessed by many among the supposedly chosen people of God, many of whom ended up betraying the Lord and persecuted Him and His disciples.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we use this opportunity today to renew our faith in the Lord? And renew our love for Him and also for our brothers and sisters around us? Much has been given to us, and much is expected from us. We should help one another to reach out to the Lord and not to be judgmental on others, be it by appearance, action or anything.

Let us rather redirect all our efforts and attentions towards loving God and loving each other with true love and sincerity, that all who sees us, sees and experiences the love of God and may also therefore come towards the salvation in God. God bless us all and be with us in all of our endeavours. Amen.