20 Aug Homily 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Deacon Blaine Barclay
Isaiah sets the stage for today’s gospel. The Prophet looks ahead to a time when the pagan nations will call God’s temple a house of prayer. Foreigners, outsiders, the excluded come joyfully to the holy mountain. The prophets and Jesus proclaim a great reversal, the first are last, the last are first, outsiders become insiders. As our Psalm says, ‘let the nations be glad and shout for joy’.
The ancient Jew’s were an insular group, after all they were God’s chosen people. Sure, prophetic vision looked forward to a Messianic age that would reach out beyond the boundaries of Israel. There was accommodation for foreigners, non- Jews, who ‘joined themselves to the Lord’, even formal rituals of conversion for such people. For example, Ruth, from the book of Ruth. But this was the exception rather than the rule. Jewish religion was ethnic rather than evangelistic. As a rule, they did not look for converts.
Not so the Christian Faith. Christianity is not an ethnic religion. At its heart there is proclamation, message, a mission universal in its scope. ‘Go into all the world, proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, shout it from the rooftops. People of every tongue and nation. No longer, Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female. The old boundaries don’t apply. The world is turned upside down in Jesus.
Of course, the Christian revolution had to start somewhere. Even Jesus started with ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. The first major crisis in the Early Church was how to welcome non-Jews into the new covenant.
So now our gospel for today.
Jesus deliberately led his Jewish disciples into a notoriously Pagan area, enemy territory. He must have anticipated unsettling confrontation, the question of insiders, outsiders. He had just been arguing with Pharisees about their interpretation of Jewish purity laws. Where to touch an outsider made you religiously unclean.
Then Jesus meets the anguish of a mother, shouting over the insiders for her suffering daughter. ‘Lord, Son of David, (a messianic title) have mercy on my daughter’. Jesus seems to ignore her, but doesn’t send her away, in spite of his disciples saying that she is ‘driving them crazy’. He even gives theological reasons for not responding. ‘My mission is first of all to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. ‘The bread of the children should not be given to the little dog, the puppy’. You think she would have been put off by this, but something about the way he looked at her encouraged her to continue. ‘Even the puppy gets to eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.’ Jesus is blown away by the confidence of her faith. We should learn from this woman, her humility, and her boldness, to not hold back in our approach to Jesus. To pay attention when people we think of as outsiders are trying to get inside.