Reflection for Sunday – August 20, 2017
Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Preacher: Gee Gee Micoli
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is curiously far from Galilee, in a pagan area close to the towns of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea. In the context of earlier events in Matthew’s gospel, we can see both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. In the interchange with the Canaanite woman, Jesus found a clearer understanding of his role in God’s kingdom, which has profound implications for each of us today: God has included us all.
In Chapter 10, five chapters previous to today’s reading, Jesus sent forth his twelve apostles to heal with a full chapter of instructions including: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” The apostles returned just after the murder of John the Baptist.
The disciples informed Jesus of John’s death after they had retrieved and buried his body. Jesus “immediately” withdrew by boat to a deserted area by himself but people followed him. When he went ashore, a great throng had come from the neighboring towns to hear him speak. Rather than taking some quiet time to adjust to the news of his cousin’s death, he was filled with compassion for these people. He healed their sick and fed 5,000 people.
He “immediately” sent the disciples by boat to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds and went up the mountain to pray. Later a storm arose on the lake and the apostles were unable to reach land. In last week’s gospel, we heard how Jesus walked out on the water to rescue them. When Peter sank because he doubted and became afraid while trying to walk on water, Jesus told Peter he had “little faith.”
After Jesus calmed the storm, they arrived at Gennesaret where Jesus was again recognized. People brought their sick to be cured; some were healed by simply touching the hem of his garment. Then, the Pharisees and the scribes accused Jesus of breaking the tradition of the elders. After a heated conversation, Jesus accused them of being hypocrites.
In this short period of time, Jesus’ divinity was apparent as he healed the sick, multiplied the loaves and fishes, and walked on water. His humanity, too, was fully on display. Jesus was deeply affected by the brutal death of his cousin. He was moved to compassion for throngs of people who came to hear him. With that same compassion he reached out to his apostles as their boat was tossed about in stormy waters. And then he engaged in a heated argument with the leaders.
Maybe Jesus was seeking some solitude in this distant land. Even far from Israel, his name and reputation had grown. A pagan woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter of a demon. His disciples said he should send her away, and Jesus responded: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
As any caring mother would, the woman again begged Jesus to heal her child. Jesus graphically explained his role to feed the children, Israel, not the dogs, the Gentiles. But she persisted: Even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table. And then Jesus responded: “O woman, great is your faith!” Her daughter was healed! Jesus honored her request solely on the basis of her faith in his power.
In his quest for rest, Jesus healed someone who was not a “lost sheep.” In this simple act of compassion, the ministry of Jesus became much more inclusive—all because of the faith of a pagan woman and her love for her daughter.
This change is clear in the last verses of Matthew when Jesus instructs his eleven apostles to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” God has included everyone. We have been chosen as disciples of Jesus. Now we must listen for God’s voice, which may demand a change of heart and mind, just like Jesus experienced.