Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 20A
Why does God put us to the test and seem to ignore our prayers? One of the major themes in the wisdom literature of the Bible, in the books of Proverbs, Psalms, Wisdom, Sirach, they all talk a lot about training, testing, discipline. The Letter to the Hebrews talks about how God disciplines us as a father disciplines his children, not for his own benefit, but to help us grow and develop, to draw out from us our true potential, even to purify our desires.
Today, I’m very glad that my parents didn’t give me everything that I asked for. I’m sure I asked for some pretty stupid things over the years or for things that would not have been very good or healthy for me at the time. Whether it was for a car or just for a snack before supper, my parents cared enough about me to say “No” or to have me wait long enough to where I’d actually appreciate what I have, even if this meant that my parents would not always be my favorite people in the world. They were willing to be disliked because they really cared about me. God always answers our prayers, but because God really loves us and wants what’s actually best for us, His answer to our prayers is often “No” or “Not yet.” God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will not give us anything that goes against our interests for everlasting life, even if this means He won’t always be popular.
In our Gospel today, the testing of the Canaanite woman reveals the purity of her motives and the strength of her faith. She approaches Jesus and persists in calling out, not because she believes she deserves a miracle, but simply out of her great concern for her daughter. And she expresses her faith in the superabundant goodness of God, that can’t help but overflow beyond the nation of the Jews, beyond the current boundaries of God’s own chosen people, but even to the “dogs,” the pagans who didn’t yet follow God’s Law. “O woman, great is your faith.”
Just as there was for the Jews at the time of Jesus, there can be a tendency today to think of being God’s own People, of being Catholic, as sort of an exclusive club, but the Church is not a country club for the spiritually elite. The Catholic Church is and always was meant for all. In a real sense, every person on earth is called to be Catholic, called to be gathered into the one Church founded by Christ Himself. The Church is completely inclusive in the sense that each and every person, without any exception, is called to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ. No matter who you think of today as “outsiders,” we’re all called to relationship and discipleship, the discipline and training of Jesus.
Prisoners, murderers, those who use violence, and anyone who is prejudiced and racist are called to encounter Christ and be transformed by His love for each and all. Those with homosexual attractions, the divorced and remarried, those who struggle with their own identity as male or female, or anyone who simply struggles to maintain purity, each and every one needs to encounter Jesus, to find our true identity, our true freedom in Him, and to receive from God the strength and desire to live in chastity. The very rich, the very poor, as well as everyone in between, those who think of themselves as well-educated or without anything to offer, the young and the not-so-young, Jesus wants to meet each one of us through the words of Sacred Scripture and in the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus wants to teach and train us to use everything that we have and everything we are to give glory to our heavenly Father, to find true fulfillment and happiness in life and in death.
Jesus wants to give us, not just scraps falling from the table, but His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, His entire Self in this Eucharist, to give us “strength for all things.” How truly “blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” Jesus calls everyone, not to remain in our slavery and sin, but to be set free and transformed by His grace. Extend the invitation, and be amazed at what Jesus can do for those willing to receive His training.