FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7 | Psalm 67: 2-3, 5, 6, 8 | Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32 | Matthew 15: 21-28
Our readings for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time tell us that the gift of life and salvation is for everyone, especially to those who go beyond boundaries and dividing lines and demonstrate great faith in Jesus.
On January 1, 1993, Jaime Sin, former Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, was visited by Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader at EDSA Shrine. The "good Sin" jokingly confided to the humble guru, "This is the place to pray and worship, but people come to me only with their complaints." Then, the cardinal archbishop recollected, "We had a meeting in Japan and the one who represented the Hindu religion was the nephew of Mahatma Gandhi. And there was someone from the Muslim faith – the Executive General Secretary, who is living in Sri Lanka. The Dalai Lama was also there. We were talking about peace. In our talks there were no differences. Sri Chinmoy replied, "All roads lead to God's House. That is our destination. Although we may live in different houses, because we were born into different religions, our destination is the same." Cardinal Sin continued, "I said, 'We are all saying the same thing. Only your terminology is different.' They said, 'Yes, there is nothing different. We will all go to Heaven because we are all seeking peace.'" Sri Chinmoy replied, "Peace-dreamers, peace-lovers and peace-promoters are all in the same boat. So we are all in the same boat." To which Cardinal Sin replied, "'Blessed are the peace-makers because they will see the Face of God.' It is one of the Beatitudes. May God bless you and please bless me!"
The first reading is an excerpt from the third part of the Book of Isaiah. Foreigners, non-Jews, had limited rights expressly legislated in the Mosaic Law. Prior to the exile, foreigners had been allowed to perform certain functions in the Temple boundaries. Trito-Isaiah stipulates the conditions under which they may serve: they must observe the Sabbath and keep the covenant, as far as it is applicable to non-Israelites. In a symbolic way, this prophecy foreshadows the universalism of the Gospel. The Scriptures is clear that there is no room for racism in God’s plan for his people. Each person you interact with today, each one you pass on the road or in the store, every single man and woman is a unique child of God created in his image and likeness. We all belong to him. God is Father to all people and he belongs to the whole world. Trito-Isaiah points to the time when the Temple of God will be a house of prayer not just for Jews, but for all people. Today, we experience so much unpeace probably because we have completely forgotten that we are all children of God and that we belong to each other.
In Islam, it is customary to remove one's shoes before entering a mosque, and Muslims remove their shoes before praying, whether in the mosque, at home or anywhere else. In addition, Muslims must wash their feet as well as hands, hair and face before praying, a practice called wudhu. Abdul Jawwad, a Moslem and Adriano, a Christian have maintained a good friendship since college regardless of their religious differences. Abdul Jawwad, genuinely curious about his friend’s religion, asked Adriano one Sunday, "I didn't know what to expect when visiting a Catholic church. Can I come with you?" Without hesitation, Adriano replied, "No worries!” Upon entering the church building, Abdul Jawwad started to remove his shoes. Confused, Adrian inquired, "Why do you do that?" "Respect. This is holy ground for you, isn't it?" Replied Abdul Jawwad. "That's not necessary," Adriano answered smiling, "I suggest you wear your shoes inside. Do not leave them here or you will get your shoes stolen!" Abdul Jawwad accepted his friend's explanation without question. Seeing the church was an absolutely incredible experience for Abdul Jawwad, "The interior is amazing and beautiful!" He exclaimed. Adriano replied, "I am happy that you liked it. Can you also bring me to the mosque on Friday?" Feeling obliged to return the favor, Abdul Jawwad said, "I'd love to, my friend!" The friends met on Friday in front of the mosque. Adriano said, "I am so excited!" He was about to enter the door when Abdul Jawwad immediately stopped him saying, "My friend, this is holy ground. Please remove your shoes before entering the prayer hall." Confused, Adriano asked, "Is that really necessary? I might get my shoes stolen from the front door!" Abdul jawwad answered smiling, "Don't worry, my friend. There are no other Christians here!"
Judging books by their covers has become a national pastime of sorts for many of us! In his Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul highlights that God’s salvation is for all. By the death of Jesus on the cross, everybody is a potential witness to Christ. He notes that the call of Israel is not over, but is forever. The Jews will always be God’s people. The Gentiles, says Paul, at one time disobeyed God, but now through Paul receive God’s mercy. The Jews have now disobeyed God, so that they too may receive God’s mercy by virtue of the mercy God gave to the Gentiles. Some of us behave as if it is we who have the right to be saved. As a result, we think that others do not matter. If you want to reach heaven, then you have the responsibility to bring others to the fold. Anyone that claims exclusive access to heaven or salvation through membership to their religion is lying. Jesus is referred to as our Prince of Peace. There are people different from us whom we may not like. Jesus didn’t tell us we have to like everyone, but he did tell us we have to love them. A devout Christian watched Mother Teresa of Calcutta as she cleaned a maggot-infested wound of a Hindu and fed starving moslems on the streets, only to say, “Why are you helping them? They are not Christians, are they?" Mother Teresa replied, "But I am a Christian". The universality of the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ calls for an end to every kind of undue cultural, ecclesial, and political introversion. This finds expression in reciprocal respect for the life of each person.
Dom Belindus Miranda, OSB, world renowned organist with a genius for improvisation once visited Saint Gregory Cathedral in Albay and having heard the great organ, went into the loft and asked to be allowed to play it. Jayson, the young organist, in jealousy for his instrument, at first refused, but was afterward prevailed on to allow the Benedictine monk-musician to try the colossal “thunderer” of the cathedral. After standing by in an ecstasy of delight and amazement for a few moments, he suddenly laid his hands on the shoulders of the monk-musician and exclaimed: “Who are you? What is your name?” “Fr. Miranda,” replied the player. “This pipe organ never sounded this good! And can it be that I had so nearly refused to let Fr. Miranda touch this pipe organ!”
As a Canaanite, the woman in our Gospel is a stranger to the covenants of Israel. Jesus takes the barrier very seriously. In fact, he first refuses to answer her, then announces that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The woman falls to her knees as a gesture of respect, “Lord, help me!” Jesus finally speaks to her but not so kindly, though the bite of Jesus’ statement is lessened by the fact that it was a proverb. He says, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman’s wit is as sharp as a tack, “Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” It was the woman’s faith that finally overcame the barrier. In a way this pagan woman can give us a lesson on prayer. Even though she is an outsider, she cries out in faith to Jesus, “Kyrie, eleison!” and presents to him the tragedy of her daughter’s possession. Even though she is an outsider, she allowed Jesus to touch her life. People often refuse to let God have his way in their life because they are afraid of the outcome. Little do they know that if they would let God do as he sees fit the outcome would be much greater than anything they could dream of. Like the Canaanite woman, we are called to grow in faith, to open ourselves in order to welcome God’s gift freely, to have trust and also to cry to Jesus “give us faith, help us to find the way!”.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum