A Challenge to Insiders: A Homily for the 20th Sunday



By Ellen Romer

I couldn’t think of a catchy way to start a reflection on this week’s readings. Even though I have prayed through these readings before, the big catch is that – particularly for the Gospel – there can be some serious discomfort in what God seems to be saying. Although I have taken two New Testament courses and even written an entire assignment on this gospel passage I still have no idea what to do with it. I love that when studying scripture the way that putting passages into context, understanding the gospel writer’s overall intentions, and delving into motivations for the different players brings God’s word to light. But this week’s gospel on the Caananite woman doesn’t necessarily get easier when putting it in context. No matter how you translate the words or bring in any possible context, Jesus calls this woman a dog. He dismisses her as an unworthy creature. She shows exceptional faith and courage and he comes around, but we have no way of knowing why. Even the ‘happy ending’ of the story doesn’t quite erase the difficulty of reading how Jesus, who I believe in so deeply and try my best to follow as faithfully as possible, dismisses a faithful courageous woman as a dog. Frankly, it hurts. Which is so weird – Jesus said something hurtful? 

Now, the easy way to deal with this of course would be to ignore it. Write it off. “Oh Jesus didn’t mean that!” The truth is, I don’t know why Jesus said something that seems so harsh and even cruel. There is also no way to know exactly why he changed his mind and anything anyone  comes up with is speculation at best. Regardless, it is there. It was worthwhile enough that the writer of Matthew’s gospel included it. It is always so easy to pick through what we like in scripture. We focus on the things that resonate with and mean the most to us. The parts that are difficult though, are the parts we ought to listen to the most. God is always speaking to us through every part of the Bible. Whether or not we like it, we need to wrestle with it. Why doesn’t it resonate? Why am I resisting something God might be saying to me? Is it to difficult? Does it challenge the way I live my life and the values I uphold? Spending time with the word of God, even if it means wrestling with the difficult words, opens us up to God’s revelation. We can’t just pick the easy parts. Jesus showed us clearly that following God’s will does not make for a life that is always easy.

It seems all of this week’s readings make clear the challenge of listening to God’s call to all people, no matter the race or nation. The foreigners in Isaiah and the Gentiles in Paul’s letter to the Romans, while they may be considered outsiders to their audiences, God does not see them as such. Even the Psalm calls for everyone on earth to love and praise God. Though he calls her a dog, Jesus still relents and extends his ministry to an ‘outsider.’ How do we respond to God’s call to all people, even those seen as foreigners? Most of what I read on the news tells me that seeing people as foreigners seems to be more important than seeing them as God’s people. The fighting in Gaza. The persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq. Protests and death in Ferguson, MO. Unprecedented numbers of people at our Southern border. The mercy and compassion Jesus shows to the Caananite woman seems absent from all of these situations and from most of what I read of them or hear about in passing conversations.

This week’s gospel challenges me very deeply. But God needs to challenge everyone. Dismissing scripture because it makes us uncomfortable may make our lives seem easier, but that it doesn’t open us up to the lives God calls us to live. We may come up with every reason in the world to rationalize the treatment of someone as an outsider and not as one of God’s own.  Our reasons will never be as good as God’s reasons.

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