Sunday Sermon for August 20, 2023, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-23; Mt 15:21-28

In the second reading today, St. Paul says something astounding regarding the salvation of the world.  We recall our Lord’s statement to the woman at the well when He said, “salvation is from the Jews.”  In the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells this Canaanite woman that He was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  So, the Jewish people, being the chosen people, were given the means of salvation first but, as St. Paul points out, they rejected that salvation.

This rejection by the Jewish people opened the door to the salvation of the rest of the world.  The Jewish people were supposed to carry the message of salvation to the world, but since no one can give what he does not possess, their rejection of Jesus meant that they had removed themselves from the privilege and blessing God had offered to them: to be the first to accept Jesus, the first to be saved, and the first to bring that salvation to the rest of the world.

Because of this rejection, God chose another way to bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles.  In an amazing turn of events, St. Paul tells us it will be the Gentiles who will bring the Jewish people to accept Jesus and turn their hearts to receive God’s plan of reconciliation, redemption, and salvation.  As St. Paul pondered this mystery of God’s providence, he points out that if the Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus and God’s plan for salvation brought about the reconciliation of the world, then their acceptance of our Lord will bring about life from the dead.

From what St. Paul told the Thessalonians, we know the time will come when the Jewish people will convert to Christ.  It seems that this will take place around the time of an apostasy in the Church and the coming of the Antichrist.  Following from this, our Lord can return in His glory and the dead will rise to meet Him.  So, when St. Paul says that God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable, it means, among other things, that everything continues to be dependent on the Jewish people.

In saying this, however, we go back to the point made earlier that the conversion of the Jews is going to come from the Gentiles.  In other words, we need to be living our Faith so as to be an example to them.  As we hear in the first reading, when God spoke to Isaiah that the Gentiles would join themselves to the Lord, ministering to Him and loving His Name, and that their sacrifices would be acceptable on His altar, for the Jewish people, this could only have meant that the Gentiles would become Jews.

History has shown us that God’s promises are fulfilled in ways we would not imagine.  Rather than the Gentiles becoming Jews, the Jews will become Christians.  Truly, God’s house will be a house of prayer for all peoples, as He said through Isaiah.  However, before this can happen, the first reading describes the requirements that we must fulfill: ministering to the Lord, loving the Name of the Lord, becoming His servants, keeping the Sabbath free from profanation, holding to the Covenant, and being joyful in the Lord’s house of prayer.

As we consider the present state of the Church and of the world, the apostasy mentioned above appears to be more the reality of our time than ministering to the Lord, loving God’s Name, and living according to His Covenant.  Think about it for a moment.  The use of God’s Name in vain has become almost the norm.  Keeping the Sabbath today seems to mean nothing other than going to Mass.  Working and shopping have become so commonplace that no one seems to realize these are violations of the Sabbath.  Even at Mass, it is rare to see someone in the Lord’s house of prayer who is filled with joy.

This brings us back to what St. Paul says in the second reading: God delivered all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all.  We cannot use this as an excuse to sin; rather, recognizing our sinfulness, we must use this as the message of hope that our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled with God.  We know that God desires this reconciliation, but we cannot be reconciled until we desire and seek that reconciliation.  By this I do not mean simply to have our sins forgiven.  This means we must strive to be servants of God who hold to His Covenant.

Jesus is our Covenant.  Our obedience to Jesus, our Covenant, will bring about the conversion of the Jews and their conversion will bring about the resurrection from the dead. Praise God that His gifts and call are irrevocable—and astounding!

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