Father Valan Arockiaswamy

Father Valan

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Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Aug 20, 2023 Views 1397 Listen 1 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the first Book of the Prophet Isaiah (56:1, 6-7)

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.

The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to Him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming His servants - all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (67:2-3, 5-6, 8)

(R) O God, let all the nations praise you!

May God have pity on us and bless us; may He let His face shine upon us. So may your way be known upon Earth; among all nations, your salvation. (R)

May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity; the nations on the Earth you guide. (R)

May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! May God bless us, and may all the ends of the Earth fear Him! (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (11:13-15, 29-32)

Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles. In as much as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.


A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (15:21-28)

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Today's gospel is probably one of the accounts in the New Testament of the Bible that many people might find rather disturbing. Because in the account we see Jesus doing something entirely unusual and uncharacteristic of him. First of all, Jesus, along with his disciples, for the first time, visited Tyre and Sidon, which were identified as typical Gentile and non-Jewish regions in Jesus' time. Until then, he had spent most of the time of his ministry in the region of Galilee which was mostly Jewish. Tyre and Sidon were fifty miles north of Israel, and today they are part of Southern Lebanon.

In Chapter 10 of the gospel of Matthew, we learn that Jesus sent the apostles out on a mission with instructions that they should not "go into Gentile or pagan territory, nor enter any Samaritan towns, but rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", Matthew (10:5-6). That's to say, the disciples were to stay away from people who were not Jews. But now Jesus was visiting a Gentile region, contrary to his own instructions to his disciples. One might well wonder why Jesus visited a Gentile territory.

From the circumstances surrounding Jesus at the time, we can assume five good reasons for him to break his own commands:

  • Jesus wanted to find some quiet time for himself as his end was near. Because by then, the Jewish religious leaders, had begun to accuse Jesus of breaking Jewish traditions and laws; had challenged his authority and power to establish the kingdom of God, and had plotted to kill Him, Matthew (12:4).
  • He wanted to further prepare his disciples for his own suffering and death and their apostolic ministry.
  • Possibly, He wanted to avoid being arrested by Herod Antipas, who was thinking that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, Matthew (14:2). Besides, Tyre and Sidon were outside the jurisdiction of both Herod and the Jewish religious leaders.
  • He wanted to avoid the crowds, who, after the great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, intended to "come and make him king by force", John (6:15). However, even in this foreign territory, He could not escape the demands of the crowds.

A woman, who had probably heard about all the wonderful works of Jesus, approached him, and was desperately crying out to him to heal her terminally ill daughter. Jesus paid no attention to her, and his disciples, who probably saw her as a nuisance, wanted Jesus to send her away. But the woman refused to give up, even when Jesus tried to ignore her. Here, no doubt, Jesus seemed to be indifferent, for Jesus did not always have to be asked before he showed compassion to others. There are scripture passages that tell us how Jesus at times, moved with compassion, would immediately respond to a need without being asked. But there was a problem here. The woman was a Gentile and moreover, was a Canaanite, the ancestral enemies of the Jews.

As a non-Jew, she did not enjoy the privileges of God's chosen people. That's to say, she was an alien, deprived of privileges. She had no legitimate claim on the Messiah. But there was one thing Jesus had to do first; He must test the true faith of this woman. So, he turned to her and said, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs".

Some might ask why Jesus referred to her as a dog. Taken out of context, and especially in English, it is easy to mistake this for an insult. In the flow of the story, however, it is very clear Jesus used a disparaging metaphor to explain the priorities of his ministry. Scholars point out that "dog" or "kuon" in Greek, in Jesus' days were unclean animals and considered by most as scavengers, often lean, savage, and diseased.

They were seldom kept as household pets as they are today. Sometimes the same word kuon was also used as a common derogatory term to refer to one's enemies, and so the Jews used the term for Gentiles indicating their unclean status by Jewish law. In fact, dogs were strongly associated with uncleanliness and so were wolves and swine in ancient Israel. Particularly, it was prophesied that dogs would lick Ahab's blood, 1 Kings (22:37-38), and eat Jezebel's flesh, 2 Kings (9:35-36). So, at this point, Jesus used the word kuon not out of disrespect to her, nor to discriminate her, but to test her faith and, to make the woman and the disciples understand that his duty, first and foremost, was to the people of Israel and not to the Gentiles.

Recklessly taking from Israel, in violation of God's plan, would be like a father taking food from his children to throw to the dogs. But the woman apparently was not the least bit offended, not even when Jesus implied that she was a dog. She remained humble, and persisted with her plea by saying, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters", Matthew (15:27).

One might wonder why she did not argue with Jesus nor was she offended by Jesus. She was able to break through the discouraging words that came her way because:

  • The tone and the look of Jesus may have softened the stance when he referred to her as a dog. Perhaps the gentle voice, the smile on Jesus' face and the compassion in his eyes counter acted the insult and bitterness.
  • The woman must have felt the endearment behind the remarks. Jesus may have meant dogs in general, but when the woman said, "dogs", she was referring to household pets, kunarion, in Greek meaning "small and domesticated dogs."
  • She dutifully recognized both the priority of Israel and Jesus' obligation toward them. She did not want to diminish Israel's privileges but desired only the crumbs and leftovers. She was prepared to accept the leftover crumbs of God's goodness.
  • She trusted Jesus from all the things that she had heard and learned about Him. She knew him to be the Messiah. She knew that He had the power to heal her daughter. She rested her hopes on him. That's why Jesus eventually said, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish", Matthew (15:27). And the woman's daughter was healed immediately.

Let us note here that we only hear of two Gentiles, in fact, the only people that Jesus acknowledged as having great faith. One was the Canaanite woman and the other was the Roman centurion who wanted his servant healed, Matthew (8:10).

What is the message for us?

  • The supreme significance of the passage is that it foreshadows Christ's desire to proclaim the good news to the whole world, not just the Jews. It shows us the beginning of the end of all the barriers.
  • The woman exemplified deep love. She took her child's suffering as her own suffering. Her love for her sick daughter gave her courage and compelled her to approach the stranger Jesus. Her love for her child motivated her to accept Jesus' silence; ignore apparent insults and rebuffs; disregard her own hurt feelings and her reputation, and relentlessly pursue Jesus to heal her child.
  • The woman exemplified great faith that Jesus did not find among his hometown people, or the religious leaders, or the crowds, or even the disciples. Her faith grew through her interaction with Jesus. She was not afraid to cry out to Jesus to have pity on her even though she perhaps knew that Jesus would reject her because of her being a Gentile. Her response to Jesus proved that she understood fully Jesus' true mission and identity and, at the same time, knew that faith was the most necessary requirement to receive Christ's mercy.
  • The woman exemplified cheerfulness. She was a Gentile or an outsider. She was looked down upon with contempt. She had a grievously ill daughter. She was in the midst of sorrow. She was ignored and insulted, and yet, she was not discouraged. She was so optimistic and humble that she was willing to be referred to as a dog and eat the crumbs from the master's table.

This is the approach we all need to have as we go to Jesus for answers to all our problems. First of all, we should love and show concern for other people in trials, tears, pain, suffering, sickness, afflictions and calamities of life. Secondly, we should pray for those who are suffering. God appreciates people who pray fervently for other people faced with trials. Thirdly, we should have patience not to grow bitter and lose heart. When we feel that God is silent or absent or far away, it's always good to say a prayer for patience. Fourthly, we must trust in the Lord with all our heart, believing He will not fail or forsake us. God is unchanging. Lastly, we should be cheerful, hopeful in Christ, in spite of tragedies, misfortunes and negative circumstances. God loves a cheerful heart.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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