August 14, 2011 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus fulfilled two distinct offices – not contradictory, but clearly different. Many times, we get confused because we do not keep them separate in our minds, but we must do so to fully understand the readings for today.
What are these two offices? First, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). He is also the Savior of the whole human race. The tension people feel between the two offices is due to the divisions we sinful men have erected between one people and another and between humanity and God.
Separation of the Jews from the Gentile peoples around them was required during the Old Testament period in order to maintain the purity of their faith. Otherwise, the distinctive revelation that began with Abraham and continued under Moses and the prophets would have been diluted by the surrounding paganism, and that was a constant temptation for them. Even Jesus, as we read in the Gospel for today, focused his ministry on the Jews, his own people. After all, the first Christians, including the apostles, came from the Jewish people.
But the universal dimension in God’s plan is also evident all along. At a time when most Jewish leaders were emphasizing separation from Gentiles, there was also a movement which stressed that the Lord is the only God, and, therefore, all peoples are invited to recognize him as such and join in his worship. As we read in the First Reading from Isaiah, the sacrifices offered by “the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD” will be acceptable to God, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The same viewpoint is reflected in the Responsorial Psalm, “O God, let all the nations praise you!”
And Jesus, although he did not introduce any mission to the Gentiles during his earthly ministry, responded to their requests for help, as he did for the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. And, of course, he ordered his disciples to undertake the mission to the entire world just before his Ascension (Mt 28:16-20).
St. Paul wrestled with the issue of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the Church in the passage of his Letter to the Romans read today. He, of course, was Jewish. But if Jesus is the Messiah the Jewish people had been waiting for, why did the vast majority of them reject Jesus and refuse to acknowledge him as the Christ? Paul’s response is that God allowed them to reject Jesus precisely so the Church would be forced to turn to the Gentiles to proclaim Jesus as Savior. Then, once the rest of the nations have accepted the Gospel, then the Jews, in turn, will recognize Jesus as the Christ.
We may recognize the theological issues at stake in these readings, but many of us are tempted to ask, So what? The Church long ago answered the question as to whether Christianity is a religion for all people, or only for the Jews.
But our attitudes may not always reflect our theological knowledge. A study by the Diocese of Wichita to identify features common to parishes with sound stewardship recognized that hospitality is one of the key pillars. The Scripture passages we hear today challenge us to examine how hospitable we and our parish are.
We hear from Isaiah that all can offer sacrifices acceptable to the Lord, and from Paul that God wants the Gentiles to accept Jesus as their Savior. Jesus himself ministered to non-Jews who turned to him in faith.
But if God welcomes all people, what about us? Is our parish “a house of prayer for all peoples,” or do we want only people who are “our kind”? Have we expanded the vision of our parish in the Catholic Church to include all who live in our area, or do we erect psychological barriers that exclude those not of our class or language or color or nationality? Good stewardship requires that we contribute our time, talent, and treasure with the whole Church and that our common life is open to all “who join themselves to the LORD.”