The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isa 56:1,6-7 + Rom 11:13-15,29-32 + Mt 15:21-28
August 20, 2017
“For God delivered all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.”
You cannot force someone to have faith in God. No matter how many arguments a person devises to prove the existence of God, all of them can be argued against, though whether the opposing arguments have merit is another matter. Jesus preached in public for three years, but He did not spend His time offering proofs of God’s existence. My spiritual director in the seminary had a saying: “You love people to faith, you love people to hope, and you love people to love.” Today’s Gospel shows us how faith becomes love.
This dialogue (we might almost call it “banter”) between Jesus and the Gentile woman shows how God relates to us, and how He wants us to relate to Him: both in our daily lives, and from the broader perspective of our spiritual growth over the years.
Have you ever prayed to God and felt He wasn’t listening? The evangelist Matthew tells us that a Canaanite woman—which is to say, an outsider—came to Jesus and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” This woman, despite not being one of the people who had been waiting for the Messiah, nonetheless knew who Jesus was. So she cried out to Him for help. But what happened next?
Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Not a word! Here is a woman whose daughter is being tormented, and Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. What kind of love is this? If you have ever prayed intensely for a serious problem, and felt that God did not answer your prayer, you can identify with her.
But can you identify with her faith? Perhaps you can identify with her cry for help going unanswered, but can you identify with what the woman does next? She is a woman whose faith is not shaken, and who puts her faith into action time and again. She goes now to Jesus a second time, and simply says, “Lord, help me.” And what is Jesus’ response?
He calls the woman a dog! He says to this outsider, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The “children” Jesus is referring to are the children of Israel, the ones the Father sent Him to teach, while this woman is an outsider, a “dog”. But why is Jesus talking this way?
God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none. He is willing to “pull” our faith out of us—indeed, to test us—in order to purify our faith. Jesus knows what sort of faith this woman has. He is willing to draw it out, because without faith on this woman’s part, He will not work a miracle.
Faith is always required for God to work in our lives. God requires faith, in the sense that He demands it from us. Whenever you read the Gospel, and see an occasion where Jesus does not work a miracle, it is not because His divine power has “run out”. Without faith on our part, God’s grace would be an empty gift. But what kind of faith does God want from us?
The faith that God wants from us is not passive. It’s active. God does not want the sort of faith that says, “God is going to take care of everything, so I can sit back and coast.” This is not our Catholic understanding of faith. Faith involves something active on our part. It demands constant prayer. It demands the sort of dialogue, the sort of banter, that we hear between Jesus and the Gentile woman. We might even say that God wants us to challenge Him in our prayer, so that He might challenge us to greater faith, and thereby greater love.