Gospel for Today: 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time


Imagine your best friend is sick; deathly ill, in fact.  You don’t know what to do and you are afraid she won’t make it.  So you rush her to the hospital.  You spot a doctor in a white coat walking down the hall and call for him to help.   You know he can hear you, but he doesn’t say a word.  He doesn’t even acknowledge your presence.  You keep calling, until some orderlies ask the doctor if he wants them to tell you to leave.  But you rush up to the doctor and ask him for help one last time.  And he looks at you and says, “We don’t treat dogs here.”

Ouch.  How incredibly rude and offensive!  You’d expect that doctor lose his job and maybe even face criminal neglect charges.  Now imagine that doctor is Jesus.
We can’t imagine being treated this way, especially when we are in a desperate and vulnerable situation.  Yet this scene is more or less what we read in today’s gospel (Mt 15:21-28) of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter.  This sort of encounter doesn’t really fit our image that we have of Jesus.  Jesus is nice.  Jesus is friendly.  Jesus helps people.  We don’t imaging Jesus telling someone who is desperately asking Him for help that they are a dog not worth the effort.  Yet here it is, in the scriptures we read today.  What are we to make of this?
Well, by the end of the gospel reading, we learn that Jesus does indeed help this woman.  He heals her daughter.  And he even commends the woman, “O woman, great is your faith!”  This is the lesson Christ teaches us today — the faith expressed by the Canaanite woman.
You see, the Canaanites were considered unclean by the Jewish people, who commonly referred to them as “dogs.”  If we imagine ourselves as Canaanites being told that it is not right to take the food meant for the children (the Isrealites) and throw it to the dogs,  we would take great offense.  We would walk away in a huff, declaring we were “too good” to be treated that way.  But not the woman in today’s gospel.  She didn’t let her ego get in the way of her faith.  She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
It is only then that Christ tells her, “O woman, great is your faith!’  The Canaanite woman is humble, and that is the key to unlocking the door of God’s grace.  Humility is so hard for us today, with our over-inflated egos.  We think we deserve so much, and this is why we simply cannot tolerate people being rude to us, or depriving us of what we believe is our due.  This attitude may do you well when you are shopping for a new car or negotiating a salary increase.  But when dealing with God, it is the exact wrong attitude to have.  When it comes to God, the truth is you don’t deserve anything.  Not a thing.  You can never merit any favor from God.  You can never be in a position where God owes you anything.
We don’t like that sort of imbalance of power.  We prefer dealing with equals.  Being in a relationship with someone who will never owe you anything, but to whom you will always owe everything is intolerable — unless you possess humility.  And the Canaanite woman gets that.  This is why she is content to beg for scraps.  And this is why she receives an abundance of grace.
God never gives because He owes us.  He gives because He loves us.  And how He loves us!  That same Jesus who tells the humble woman today, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” would go on to endure the worst kind of humiliation and death for people just like her (and you, and me).  He would pour out His grace upon all mankind in such a way that would be utterly unbelievable if it were not true.  Not because He owes us.  Because He loves us.He continues to pour those graces upon His Church even to this day.  The Canaanite woman only begged for scraps from the masters’ table.  We have available to us the very bread of heaven, the Body & Blood of Christ.  Think about this: you have the opportunity every Sunday — every day if you so desired — to be kissed on the lips by your Maker.  This is the intimate way God desires to come to us in the Eucharist at Mass.

The Canaanite woman was happy to beg for only the scraps of God’s grace.  Is the Eucharist something you would be willing to beg for?  Most of us have never been in a situation where we were deprived of the sacraments.  But far too many of us have turned away from them by choice or by neglect.  We have taken God for granted.  Today, as we start a new semester at WCU, and as many begin their college career away from home for the first time, I pray that you never take God’s gift of the sacraments for granted.  Today is the first Sunday that many of you will go to Mass not because your parents make you go, but because you want to give God worship and commune with Him.
Worshiping with the Church every Sunday and making a habit of prayer every day, help to keep us humble.  These things help remind us each day that we are dependent upon God and should be thankful for all He gives us.  But make no mistake.  We should not strive for humility thinking that humility will merit God’s favor.  This is false humility.  Humility does not merit God’s favor: humility is recognizing that nothing merit’s God’s favor.  Therefore humility allows us to approach God not with the cry of modern man — “I deserve…!” — but with the plea of the Canaanite woman, “Please, Lord…”  Only the humble heart can receive God’s grace, because only the humble heart knows it must ask for it.  May we all have such humility.
During your time at WCU, know that you are in my prayers, and in the prayers of the larger CCM community.  Know that we are here for you whenever you need us, but more importantly, know that Christ is here for you.  You will form many new relationships during your college years and those relationships will form who you are.  The most important relationship you can develop is you relationship with Christ.  CCM is here to help facilitate that relationship in any way we can.  It starts today with Sunday Mass, with the Eucharist, the “source and summit of our faith” (Lumen Gentium 11).  You don’t have to beg for scraps.  You are invited to the feast.

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723