Ordinary Time 20, Year A
- His own people did not accept him, but to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God (Jn. 1:11-12)
As affirmed in today’s gospel, the Israelites have the priority. They are the children from whom the food allotted to them should not be taken to be given to dogs, whether pets or stray. They are, if we recall last Sunday’s second reading (Rom. 9:1-5), the heavenly cause for which a genuine apostle would be willing to march into hell. They are a people who have so much going for them, since “theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.” And if, as today’s second reading points out, they have been rejected, they nonetheless will eventually enjoy God’s mercy. After all, God’s gifts and call to his chosen people are irrevocable.
Yet it is not uncommon that the gifted and called by the Lord end up—though, as the second reading also explains, not without a reason on the part of God, whose judgments are inscrutable and whose ways are unsearchable—taking for granted their gifts and calling (cf. also Rom. 11:33). Their privileges become a temptation to presumption, which make them deserving of the admonition: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Mt. 3:9). Even an older son who is apparently faithful to his father, serving him year in and year out and not once disobeying him, may so harbor unwarranted feelings of entitlement and fail to appreciate the good life he has with his father and his free access to everything his father owns that, in resentment, he prefers to remain outside because the wastrel younger brother he wants forever excluded is once again part of the household (Lk. 15:11-32). Indeed, many who are first become last (Mt. 19:30; 20:16).
Entering the kingdom of God before those who are first are those who are usually deemed last and worthy to be looked down upon and excluded. And these last who become first, of course, are not only the tax collectors and the prostitutes (Mt. 21:32). Among them too is the Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon.
There are two counts against this Canaanite woman: first, she is a descendant of Israel’s ancient enemies who contributed to Israel’s becoming idolatrous every so often; second, she is a woman, and hence, without much significance in a patriarchal society. Little wonder then that the disciples, not wanting to be bothered, ask that she be sent away. While the same disciples show themselves still without understanding (cf. Mat. 15:15-16), the Canaanite woman, on the other hand, recognizes, ahead of many of Jesus’ own people and even disciples (cf. Mt. 16:16), his identity as the Son of David, the rightful king of a nation that defeated her ancestors.
So great and unshakable is the Canaanite woman’s faith she refuses to take no for an answer. She does Jesus homage, unequivocally acknowledging her helplessness and poverty. She likewise humbly admits the priority of the Israelites and thus considers them better than herself (cf. Phil. 2:3). And Jesus, moved by the Canaanite woman’s faith, grants her prayer. Jesus gives the Canaanite woman her fill, not out of the tiny and meager scraps dogs eat, but out of the Lord’s lavish abundance that guarantees enough bread not just for Israel but also, as the first reading makes clear, for foreigners—for all the marginalized poor—who, with great faith, join themselves to him in order to serve him and to love his name (cf. Mt. 14:20-21; Mt. 15:37-38).
As history amply shows, it is not hard to lose one’s position of privilege. But to those Jesus gives their fill from God’s abundance, them he likewise makes to appreciate and embrace the servanthood or slavery—“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28)—that is the key to greatness or priority.