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Our Gospel this weekend presents us with what --- at least initially --- looks like an unflattering picture of Jesus. We are told that a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and called out: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” We are told that Jesus “did not say a word in answer to her.” Jesus’ disciples want him to send her away. Jesus response to them was: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman “came and did Jesus homage, saying Lord, help me.” Jesus tried to brush her off with the rather abrupt response that: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In reply the woman said: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus responded to her by telling her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
What are we to make of this strange conversation? First, it must be noted that historically Jews had little to do with Canaanites. Jesus’ response, then, would have been in line with the spirit of the times. Second, while eventually Jesus commissioned and sent his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, initially he wanted their mission to begin with the Jews. Thirdly, though, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus as he does elsewhere in the Gospels, responded to the woman’s obvious faith. It is the woman’s faith that is the most important element in this Gospel.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel. In it Isaiah prophesizes: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord ………. All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer………. for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In this section, Paul, while identifying himself as the “apostle to the Gentiles,” also preaches to his fellow Jews and reminds them that “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When you have prayed about something, have you ever felt that initially your prayer was rebuffed?
2. Has your faith ever drawn you to deeper prayer?
3. If God wants God’s house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, why do some want to limit access?