August 17, 2014 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings on this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time have a lot to do with “Gentiles.” If most of us were asked to define what a Gentile is, we might say “someone who is not Jewish.” In fact, that is what has evolved as a modern definition; that venerable Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines Gentile as “relating to the nations at large, as distinguished from the Jews.”
However, as we have often found when we carefully research and review Holy Scripture, that definition is not necessarily supported by the Bible. In Hebrew the word found in the Bible is goy or its plural goyim. These words appear more than 500 times in the Old Testament itself. Yet, not once are they translated to mean “non Jew.” Only thirty of those times goy or goyim are translated as “Gentile.” More than 300 times they are translated as “nation.”
Thus, we are Gentiles not because we are not of the Jewish faith but because we represent a nation other than Israel. This distinction is important to note in relation to today’s readings. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah lays out God’s view of His Church. God speaks of the Temple, but He insists that “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” At Jesus’ time only Jews could enter the temple. Any others who might wish to pray had to pray outside the church. That is why businesses developed there to cater to those who could not enter the temple. It was that activity to which Jesus reacted with annoyance to the money changers and merchants.
In this reading God explains to us that we are to “do what is just.” Of course, this is an appeal to us to be good stewards. The good steward, you see, responds to God out of faith, not because God has already offered a reward for that faith. In today’s reading Saint Paul calls himself the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Most of Paul’s letters and most of the New Testament were written in Greek. In the original Greek Saint Paul says he is the Apostle to the Ethnos. Although translated as “Gentile” Ethnos in Greek means “nation.” We hear in the first reading that God wants His House to be “for all peoples.” In the last verses of Paul’s letter to the Romans today, Paul says that “God delivered all to disobedience, that He might show mercy to all.” Paul expands the perception from the first reading that the House of God is for everyone to make sure we understand that salvation is offered to all as well.
The Gospel places Jesus in Tyre and Sidon, which is north of Galilee on the coast. It is in an area which in ancient times was known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia and Canaan were somewhat synonymous. Jesus is approached by a local woman, a Canaanite or Phoenician, who was definitely from another “nation.” Although her request is initially rebuffed, she calls out, “Lord, help me.” That is not much different from Peter’s call in last week’s Gospel, “Lord, save me.” Not only does this passage support what is offered in terms of the first two readings relating to the Church and salvation being available to all peoples, all nations, it also provides the key to salvation — faith. How often in Scripture does Jesus respond to those who have faith? Always. The Lord is prepared every day and every minute to respond to our needs, to help us with our burdens. However, we must have faith, and we must reach out as the Canaanite woman did.