Friday, August 22, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 17 August 2014

Shared Homily Starter


First Reading:
Isaiah 56: 1,6-7
Second Reading:
Romans 11.13-32
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 15.21-28

The theme of all today's readings is that God's plan for humanity is inclusive, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”. I'm going to focus on the second reading and the Gospel. The second reading from Roman's amplifies the inclusive plan of God, especially the 13 verses omitted from the lectionary. It's focus is on the Gentile followers of Christ and the Jewish communities, who follow Christ and those who don't. These readings are of significance today for the whole Christianity Community.

If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. 
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 
In the early church in Rome, some Jewish and Gentile Christians alike were of the mind that they were better in God's eyes than the Jews who remained true to the Jewish faith. Paul, in this part of his letter, was reminding them that the Christian faith is rooted in Judaism. That although they might be considered enemies of the Gospel in the eyes of Christians, in the eyes of God, they are still God's people and beloved, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” The message for us is twofold. The first is that Paul's message to us is to remember that our tradition is rooted in the Jewish faith. The second is that no matter what the foibles of our leaders, whether they are in Rome, Ottawa, or a local independent church leader, our roots are in Christ.

While the Gospel too, is of significance today for the whole Christianity Community, it is of particular significance to those churches in the Christian family that practice ecclesiastic legal exclusion.

It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

"Jewish people did not regularly call non-Jews “dogs.” Jesus is making his point by way of illustration, as wise teachers in his day often did. In Jewish Palestine, dogs were regarded as scavengers, but in well-to-do households influenced by Greek custom, dogs were sometimes pets. Jesus is making an illustration: the children must be fed before the pets, and the Jewish people therefore had first claim.i

Further, the Greek word for 'dog' here is not the standard, 'outside' dog--which MIGHT BE an insult-- but is the diminutive word, meaning 'household pets, little dogs'ii. The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. Picture, for example, supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet "puppies" at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or to play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably also very dear to the parents, are to be fed AFTER the children, not DENIED food. We know that Jesus came and taught, first to the children of Israel. But the main lessons in this Gospel passage seems to be that it demonstrates Jesus' willingness to engage in open dialogue with an outsider. Through their short conversation, transformation happens, for all of them: Jesus is moved to help, the woman's faith is deepened, the disciples get lesson in compassion and inclusion.

I watched a film yesterday called, Trembling Before G-d. One concept touched me deeply, the speaker gave the examples of Moses and Abraham to show that humans have the human's ability to influence God, who has compassion for us in our struggles. It seems some churches have traded in compassion for legalism; confused conformity and exclusion with unity.

The Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous warns against “contempt prior to investigation.iii” In our tradition, people are excluded from the table and full participation in the Church because they have breached one or another Canon or Church Law. There are Canon lawyers who act as prosecutors but there are no canon lawyers who act as public defenders or defense lawyers. In most cases people are condemned and excluded without a hearing or any consideration of their circumstances. There is no meaningful mechanism for mounting an appeal. Yet, Yahweh listened to people. God heard the cries of not just Moses and Abraham, but also “the cries of the poor”. In the Gospels, Jesus enters into dialogue or considers the circumstances, then acts, for example, his hungry followers on the Sabbath, the Hemorrhaging Woman, the Woman at the Well and today's Canaanite Woman. Jesus acts to alleviate the person's suffering and address their spiritual and physical needs. So let us remember to follow Jesus' example. In our daily lives, let's investigate living with hearts empty of contempt and growing in union with the inclusiveness and compassion the Divine Heart.

Please reflect for a few minutes on, “God's house shall be called a house of prayer for all people,” then respond to, How can we make it so?

ii Footnote on . The saying in Mt. 15:26; Mk. 7:27 brings the claims of children and house dogs into comparison. The choice of κυνάριον shows that Jesus has in mind little dogs which could be tolerated in the house [footnotes point to Rabbinic sources, b. Ket. 61a ("woman who plays with little dogs or chess"), and b.Shab., 155b on feeding little dogs]." [TDNT] "κῠνάριον, τό, Dim. of κύων, little dog, puppy, Pl.Euthd.298d, X.Cyr.8.4.20, Theopomp.Com.90, Alc.Com.33" [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1010). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.]

iii Wilson, William Griffith, et al. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More that One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. Reproduction of the first printing of the first edition. Malo, Washington: The Anonymous Press, 1999.

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