Welcome to Green Reflections, the blog dedicated to reflections on the readings from the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary, with particular sensitivity to the needs of the earth. Use this blog to deepen your own awareness of our Creator's desires for the planet and ways that we can appreciate God's goals for the earth,giving it the loving care that it deserves.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 14, 2011 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 56:1, 6-7 Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 Mt 15:21-28

The following is part of an ongoing fictional dialog between second century catechumen, Respecta, and her teacher, Petras.

“You’re awful quiet this morning, Respecta,” Petras commented.

“It’s just that I’m having a hard time understanding today’s gospel reading, Petras. I usually think of Jesus as being kind-hearted and generous, but today he was downright rude to the Canaanite woman. Really! He called her a dog and seemed to want to get away from her without helping.”

“Ah, yes, it would appear that way to non-Mediterranean hearers. Let me fill you in on the background that might just help you in this case. You see, in first century Palestine, as well as other Mediterranean countries, people were governed by an honor code. In Israel, you might keep your honor by not associating with non-Jewish people. Cozying up to Gentiles brought with it public shame. It’s no wonder that Jesus would not have spoken to a Canaanite woman. Jewish men not only didn’t speak to women who were not family members, they also avoided contact with Gentiles except for business. If Jesus had freely spoken to this woman, he could easily have lost all his disciples and his shame would have affected his ability to make a living. Such a person might have to go through cleansing rituals in order to attend temple.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize how honor ruled Jesus’ society. I guess if he lived a fully human life, he would have adopted the customs of his nation in order to be respected there. But, why—why did he call the woman a dog? That’s just plain cruel.”

“To our ears, it certainly was. In Jesus’ culture, however, it was one way that he could speak to the woman, using the common slur used against Canaanites, ‘a dog.’ Even so, notice that Jesus used the phrase for pet dogs, not the wild dogs that roam the street eating garbage. Perhaps that softened the blow for the woman.”

“She certainly was persistent, wasn’t she, Petras? I don’t think that I would have kept petitioning Jesus if he treated me that way.”

“Yes, I think many of us are tempted to give up if Jesus doesn’t answer our needs quickly. I believe that’s the whole point of today’s gospel. Matthew’s gospel pictures this woman as being very loyal to Jesus. Notice how she used the title, “lord, son of David,” to start her petition. She began by acknowledging his lordship and messianic title. Even when Jesus seems to ignore the woman, she maintains her belief in him and loyally calls on him for help. Each time she addressed Jesus, she called him, ‘Lord.’ This was part of the honor code that would make Jesus her patron. She doesn’t give up on him and at the same time reminds him of his obligations to his client, namely herself. The woman even comes back to him when Jesus called her the household pet dog by claiming that pets eat scraps from the master’s table. It took courage and humility to maintain her claim on Jesus.”
“That’s pretty amazing, Petras. I would never have understood that all this honorable behavior was happening if you didn’t show it to me.”

“Yes, Respecta, the gospel is filled with layers of meaning and it’s not always easy to see it when you’re not part of the Mediterranean cultures. Meantime, there’s an important message for us in the story. It can seem like God is terribly slow helping us at times. When catastrophic illness or injury occurs, or when we have suffered terrible injustice at others hands, we want God to step in immediately to change our situation. Today’s gospel reading tells us to be faithful to God and Jesus when they don’t give us what we want immediately.”

“Life can be awfully hard, Petras. There are murders and rapists, there is the government oppression of our faith, and children die before they have a chance to grow up. It’s hard to be patient and trust God in these circumstances. It’s not in my nature just to sit by and wait for God to act.”

“Well, I believe that we don’t have to sit back in all our sufferings, Respecta. When we get a headache or suffer a sprain we can drink willow bark tea to alleviate the pain and swelling. We can get a doctor’s help for more serious illness. But when extremely dangerous things happen, like the murder and rape that you brought up, it’s very difficult. If we turn around in the same spirit as the murderer or rapist, we become murderers and rapists ourselves. If we took up arms to defend ourselves, then we would become as violent as the government that persecutes us. I believe that Jesus' advice to turn the other cheek comes into play in these circumstances. If we repay evil for evil, then we will become part of darkness instead of being children of light. It is very difficult to trust that God will work out all things for our good. Nevertheless, I believe the Canaanite woman has much to say to us today about these matters. When her child was devastated by some kind of illness, she turned to Jesus for help. The gospel doesn’t tell us if she went to a doctor first, though she may have. Even when it looked like Jesus wouldn’t help her, she remained by his side, loyally trusting his good heart to respond to her need.”

“I see. What you’re telling me is to do what is possible to change circumstances when I can, but to recognize that some situations cannot be changed without divine intervention. And if I live loyal to Jesus and I pray faithfully, but God still doesn’t answer the way that I had hoped, then I should trust God to do what is best even if I don’t see it.”

“I think that is a good summation, Respecta. God has always told people to ‘maintain justice and do what is right,’ so we are commanded to live in right relationship with one another and do what is right. When we cannot get justice or we must live with painful circumstances, then God reminds us that salvation will come. What God spoke through Isaiah is true for us, also. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is worthwhile to maintain our loyalty to Jesus and his teaching no matter what happens. Some will allow their frustration to separate them from Christ Jesus. For the Canaanite woman as for us, loyalty to Christ, even without seeing tangible results, keeps us connected to him and walking his ways.”

Ponder the Serenity Prayer to see if it might help with the burdens we bear.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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About Me

The Green Nun earned an MA in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley and is currently completing a Masters degree in Earth Literacy from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. This blog spot is being done as an integration project for the MA.

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