A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 38)

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – August 14, 2005

 

“Great Is Your Faith!”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 56:1, 6-7 // Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 // Mt 15:21-28

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

Today’s Gospel episode of the healing of the non-Jewish woman’s daughter (Mt 15:21-28) contains the fascinating dialogue of faith between the Gentile mother and Jesus. Indeed, this faith encounter between an irrepressible intercessor and the source of healing would encourage the Church in its mission to the Gentiles after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Although, in the divine plan of salvation, pride of place belongs to the Jews, the “bread of salvation” that is Jesus would be offered to assuage the hunger of all nations, prefigured in the faith-filled Canaanite mother. The universal mission to the Gentiles would primarily be the work of the Spirit-propelled missionary Church, born in the wake of the Easter event.

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, explain: “Here we do not have an ordinary episode, just another cure among others. In this woman, who follows after Jesus with her cries, the disciples seem to see only a nuisance to be silenced by sending her away after granting her request. In truth, for him, the problem is elsewhere: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. … Jesus’ ministry was limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the welcome of the Canaanite woman already announces that the day will come when pagans will be able to eat the bread of the children and not only the crumbs falling from the table of their masters. In fact, the risen Christ will commission the eleven to go and bring the good news to all nations. Having gone back to the Father, he will exercise, through his disciples, the power given to him in heaven and on earth and he will be with them until the end of the age (cf. Mt 28:16-20). No one is excluded from this salvation that continually expands … Like the Church at large, every Christian community, even a small one, even a very homogenous and particularized one, is catholic, that is, open to universal values, especially when it is assembled for the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist.”

 

The Canaanite woman of this Sunday’s Gospel reading epitomizes the remarkable attitude of the recipients of the Good News through time and space. In this remarkable Gentile mother, the evangelist Matthew portrays a laudable figure of efficacious faith. The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly remarks: “Throughout his Gospel Matthew is at pains to show what great things can be achieved through faith in Jesus Christ. He is writing for Christians who have already expressed that faith – and he is writing for us. For he knows that all Christians are in need of constant encouragement to grow in faith. Here he is telling us how effectively even this pagan woman believed. Could Jesus say to us what he said to her, You have great faith!

 

 

 

PERSONAL REFLECTION

by Bong and Sol Tiotuico

(Members: ASSOCIATION OF PAULINE COOPERATORS – Friends of the Divine Master, Antipolo Unit, Philippines)

 

This biblical incident mentioned both in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark provides us with a useful guide through our life’s spiritual journey on how to seek God’s help through prayer, as we confront problems and frustrations in our daily lives as Christians in a secular world. As we read and “digest” the meaning of this text, we would like to focus on three issues: persistence, faith and humility.

 

The first time the Canaanite woman called on Jesus, “Son of David! Have mercy on me. Sir, my daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition”, she was met with silence. No response. An obvious snob. She even called him, “Son of David”, the messianic title of the one promised by God to the Jews as she tried to get his attention. This did not seem to impress Jesus either. Our faith tells us that Jesus accepted his rightful title of messiah, though with some reservation, because the Jews at that time interpreted it as more political in nature than divine.

 

Like the woman, we frequently get this kind of response when we pray to God for favors. We expect that God, in his omnipotence and divine mercy, will not disappoint us. She must have heard earlier, news on how Jesus healed lepers, blind beggars, even brought dead people back to life in the course of his ministry. She might have thought it would be easy to get what she asked for as long as she got Jesus’ attention. Yet, in that incident, it was different. And how do we interpret his silence? Was he testing the woman’s faith? When our prayers are not answered, how do we react? With disappointment maybe? But God in his infinite wisdom knows better. Could it be that we are praying for the wrong things, or our timing may not be appropriate, or the manner and extent we expect God to grant our request may not be good for us in the long run? As the powerful warning goes, “Be careful what you pray for, it might be granted.” Or does God want to challenge us to change because our faith is not strong enough?

 

The disciples were not sympathetic either. The woman was treated more like a nuisance. Consider their reaction, “Send her away. She keeps following us and making all this noise.” In Mark’s account, Jesus and his disciples were inside a house obviously resting, and Jesus did not want people to know he was there. Instead of acting on the disciples’ request, Jesus replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman, who was a Gentile, displayed what Jesus call chutzpah. She went on and paid homage to him and cried, “Lord, help me.” But Jesus is justified in saying that because of a cultural barrier. It was not acceptable at that time and place for a Jewish man, a rabbi, to be talking to or even granting favors to a Gentile woman. The woman, with boldness due perhaps to desperation, broke that barrier.

 

Next is her humility. One description of this trait is the ability to accept what comes along, the good and the bad, like a boxer rolling with the punches. Initially falling at Jesus’ feet, the woman may not have shown humility yet, more of theatrics perhaps. But after being met with silence, then with a rebuke for not being a child of Israel, for being a pagan and therefore, not deserving Jesus’ attention, did she feel humbled. The big insult came when she was brought to the level of a dog. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman was not turned off by this insult. In the Jewish culture at that time, dogs were also considered unclean and were not treated the way the present SPCA would have us do. At this moment, she could have taken a deep breath, swallowed hard and said what Dale Carnegie, in his bestseller, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, teaches to generations of salespeople when it comes to handling objections from customers. Good salesmen would have roared in approval when she replied, “That’s true, Sir, but even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from their master’s table.” This is a brilliant answer, by any standard. And Jesus was visibly impressed. And he replied, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.”

 

Jesus may have tried to test her faith by having her undergo such a gauntlet of obstacles. And each time, Jesus seemed to pose a challenge, her faith was raised to a higher level and reached its peak at the end of the episode. Was not Jesus complaining about the lack of faith of his own disciples, that those outside of the household have more faith than those inside? Here was a Gentile woman who has shown an extraordinary level of faith that featured “filial boldness”. Our Catholic faith points out that Jesus teaches us “filial boldness”. Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will. Such is the power of prayer and of faith that does not doubt: all things are possible to him who believes. This Gospel episode is a prophetic sign of what is to happen when after two millennia, Gentiles constitute the majority of the two billion or more adherents to the Christian faith.

 

On the other hand, on the part of Jesus, he is talking about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (cf. Mt 15:21-28), but then later, at the end of the gospel, in Mt 28:19-20, he tells his disciples, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” What happened in between? What happened to Jesus himself? Perhaps in his humanity, he had to struggle with what his real mission was. In this incident, we see his human side. Generally, we find it easier to emphasize his divinity, putting his humanity on the sidelines. This encounter with this bold and unusually persistent woman could have helped him clarify the nature and extent of his mission, despite the limitations imposed on him by the customs and traditions of that era.

 

What about us? What is in it for us as spectators of this short drama filled with strong emotions, passion and thought-provoking dialogue? At what level is our faith at this moment? Are we one of those who still treat God like a jukebox: we kick the machine when it won’t play our favorite song after dropping a coin in the slot? Are we persistent enough to practice “filial boldness” like the simple and single-minded faith of the saints? Does anyone here still practice humility? One is ridiculed for eating “humble pie”. In many cultures, especially in the East, this trait is highly valued. But in the rat race, in a materialistic, individualistic society, where even “bragging rights” are given premium value, this behavior may just be one of those old-fashioned ideas folks from a previous age like to talk about. And then, finally, how do we respond to the challenge from Jesus and make the Canaanite woman inside all of us come out?

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART

 

A.    Is our faith persistent and indomitable as that of the Canaanite mother depicted in this Sunday’s Gospel? Are we ready to engage in confrontations and endure difficulties and rejection for the sake of those we love?

 

B.     What is our response to those who importunately rely on our help and assistance? Does the faith of others move us to positive and compassionate action?

 

 

C.     Is our ministerial concern parochial or universal? In light of the Easter event, do we commit ourselves to share the saving work of Jesus, the “bread of salvation”, with all peoples of the earth?

 

 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD

(Cf. Commission Francophone Cistercienne, Sur la trace de Dieu, Paris: Desclee, 1979, p. 43)

 

Leader: As earthly joys call for a feast,

may joy unite us at God’s table!

Assembly: Great is your faith!

Let it be done for you as you wish.

 

Leader: As wine makes the guests merry,

may the Spirit of Christ inebriate the living!

Assembly: Great is your faith!

Let it be done for you as you wish.

 

Leader: As a wedding gathers a crowd of friends,

may people come from the four corners of the world to the banquet of the Lamb!

Assembly: Great is your faith!

Let it be done for you as you wish.

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

            “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Mt 15:28a)

 

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION

 

A.    ACTION PLAN: Pray for Christian missionaries who spread the Gospel beyond ethnic and cultural boundaries and endeavor to bring the healing touch of Jesus to the sick and needy. Contribute to the ecumenical effort of the Church and the task of inter-religious dialogue.

 

B.     ACTION PLAN: That we may appreciate and experience more deeply the universal and transcending gift of the “bread of salvation” offered to all the “children of the world” and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 38): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.

 

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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