Sunday Sermon for August 16, 2020, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28
In the first reading, God tells us through the Prophet Isaiah that His salvation is about to come and His justice is about to be revealed. What follows after these statements is astounding: the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to Him, loving His Name, becoming His servants. The Jewish people understood they were the People of God and that salvation would come through them. Moreover, if justice was to be done, the Jews would be largely spared because they were the Chosen People.
However, this is not what God revealed. We know from history that because the Jewish people were chosen, God held them to a higher accountability. There were certainly nations and peoples that were annihilated in the ancient world, but it is about the tribulations and exiles of the people of Israel that we hear about in Scripture because of who God called them to be. They were not to be like any other nation on earth. But now God says He will call people from the nations to worship Him! The only way this could make sense to the Jewish mind would be if these people became Jews.
Even though many trials came to the Jews, the idea of justice would be understood as God’s wrath being visited upon the nations, especially those nations that persecuted the Jews. Who would have guessed that God’s justice would mean God Himself would come to earth and die for us? Who would have guessed He would start something new, built upon and fulfilling Judaism, but entirely new and separate from what God had revealed to the Jewish people?
The salvation spoken of in the first reading is the fruit of the justice of which Isaiah speaks. Salvation, St. Paul, is from the Jews, but it is not for the Jews only. In fact, in the second reading, St. Paul talks about his ministry to the Gentiles. He says he hopes the faith and salvation of the Gentiles will cause the Jews to become jealous and, thus, convert to the fullness of the truth. What follows is something well worth pondering: the disobedience of the Jews brought salvation to the whole world; the acceptance of Jesus by the Jews will bring about life from the dead.
The next insight of St. Paul is also profound: the Gentiles had been disobedient, but they received mercy because of the disobedience of the Jews. The Jews, however, will receive mercy through the mercy extended to the Gentiles. Thus, everyone has been delivered up to disobedience, and everyone will have the opportunity to receive mercy. No one can claim they have earned God’s mercy or they are owed mercy just because of their heritage.
All of us are sinners, and all of us are in need of God’s mercy. However, based on what St. Paul is telling us, the reception of God’s mercy is predicated on faith. We have to believe in God, repent of our sins, and accept the fullness of truth as God has revealed it. We see this in the Gospel reading today when this Canaanite woman comes to Jesus to beg for the exorcism of her daughter. When our Lord tells her it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs, the woman replies that even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the Master’s table. Jesus responds to her great faith and grants her the mercy she sought for her daughter.
Now the Church comprises Jewish converts as well as converts of Gentile origin. The vast majority, having been excluded from the old covenant, come from every nation, language, people, and tribe. The Lord’s house has truly become a house of prayer for all peoples. The question each of us needs to ask, however, is: is the House of God a house of prayer for me? By this I am not asking if you say some prayers when you go to church; rather, is prayer the center of your life? Do you come regularly to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and unite yourself with Him in prayer? So, is the church truly a place of prayer for you?
As we heard in the first reading, God’s justice is about to be revealed. It was revealed two thousand years ago in the Person of Jesus. This time it will be in the Mystical Person of Jesus, the Church. As the children of God, we have not been faithful in loving and serving the Lord; we have been disobedient. Prepare your soul through prayer. Visit the Lord often and make the church a house of prayer for yourself. Faith, obedience, prayer, and repentance will open your heart to receive the mercy of God in the coming trials.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.