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20th SUNDAY (A) AUGUST 20, 2017

Isaiah 56: 6-7; Psalm 67; Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15: 21-28

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:


  The 20th-

Sunday in



Today’s gospel is strange, don’t you think? It is embarrassing too, since it seems to depict Jesus in an unflattering light. A desperate woman has come seeking help for her tormented daughter. Since she is a Canaanite, an outsider to the Jewish faith, Jesus treats her abruptly. First, he ignores her then, in the parlance of the day, he refers to non-Jews, as "dogs."

If the story does anything, it certainly gets us on the side of the "under dog" – we want to cheer the woman on, "Don’t give up! He’ll give in!" How strange, to side with a petitioner, hoping Jesus’ heart will soften towards the mother. It is not the usual stance we take when we hear a person in need invoke Jesus’ help. Usually he is the compassionate one, eager to help those who exhibit need and faith in him. But not in today’s story. Is Jesus really as indifferent as he first seems? What’s going on here?

What will help us enter today’s story is to begin by reflecting on our basic faith in Jesus. What do we believe about his humanity? Most of us, I dare say, were raised with a strong affirmation of Jesus’ divinity. He is, we believe, the eternal Word of God made flesh. Less emphasized in our formation was an equally true doctrine of our faith: Jesus was truly human. We have to keep these two truths in balance. But we often tend to emphasize one side of the truth of Jesus’ identity; we favor his divinity. What has been neglected, at least in my upbringing, is the equally important truth that Jesus was fully human.

So ask yourself: If someone knocked on his door, would Jesus know who was there before he opened it? Traditionally we would not hesitate in answering, "Yes, he was God and knew everything." Taking that perspective, we would approach Jesus’ rough treatment of the woman in today’s text by claiming that he knew all along what he intended to do and was testing the woman’s faith. And the woman does have faith!

Her faith has pushed her beyond her usual boundaries. She is a Canaanite and so has left her homeland to go out to Jesus. Remember that the Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the Promise Land and had been pushed out by the Israelites. The conflicts between the Jews and the Canaanites were ancient and the woman had taken a risk when she entered enemy territory. She had the courage to leave the security of the familiar to venture into a place of tension in order to get help from Jesus. It’s possible that, in making the journey, the woman was acknowledging the priority of the Jews and their faith as a place to find a gracious God willing to help her. Her desperation and courage are shown in her going to Jesus unaccompanied by a male guardian – something unusual for women of that time.

The woman’s faith is also shown in her persistence with Jesus. She is not easily dissuaded, even when Jesus refers to throwing the "children’s" (the Jews) food to the "dogs" (the Gentiles). In the original language the word Jesus used is "puppies," not the harsher sounding "dogs." We sense Jesus is open to the woman and has pulled back from the way his Jewish contemporaries would have referred to her, as one of the "dogs." The woman insists she has some rights, even though she belongs to the "dogs" – after all the "dogs" eat the scraps from the table. She seems to be implying her belief that God will feed both the "children" and the "dogs" – Gentiles and Jews.

Jesus has just been criticized by the Pharisees for his disciples (and by extension, Jesus) not observing dietary and ritual cleansing rules (15: 1-20). He called the religious leaders hypocrites who only payed lip service to God. In contrast, Jesus praised the Canaanite woman for having great faith. One of the very people the religious leaders would have despised for their religious and ethical practices receives the highest praise from Jesus. So, who are the truly pious and observant in Jesus’ eyes? Those who see in him God’s gracious desire to heal, forgive and welcome to the table. At that table, as at our eucharistic table today, God serves the best bread to those who are hungry.

The disciples were all too ready to dismiss the woman. But, as it turns out, she exhibits more faith than even they have, for she sees that the God Jesus proclaims includes all people, even those believed unworthy by the pious and observant. God doesn’t count class or ethnic standing as an entitlement to God’s favor. All people of faith receive and find a receptive ear in God.

Back to our earlier question: If someone knocked at the door would Jesus know who it was before opening it?" With a strong emphasis on his divinity and a lesser one on his humanity, the answer would be, "Yes, of course." However, in recent years we have come to a renewed appreciation of Jesus’ humanity through our reinvigorated studies of scripture. For example, Paul says that Christ emptied himself, "taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, one like us in all things but sin (Phil. 2: 6-7). In Hebrews we are told Jesus was "tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned" (4: 15). Again in Hebrews, Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered." After his parents found the boy Jesus in the temple Luke tells us he returned with them to his home, "was obedient to them" and "progressed in wisdom and age and grace before God and humans" (2: 51-52). From this biblical perspective we observe that Jesus, like all humans, did not come into this world fully developed and all-knowing, but like us he grew, "in wisdom and age and grace before God and humans."

From this second perspective we might say that when Jesus encountered the woman and heard her request, he was expressing his first intention: to preach his message to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But when he saw the woman’s strong faith in him, especially after just being rejected by those who should have known better, the religious leaders, he then modified his mission plan.

The woman was a clear sign to Jesus that God’s salvation was meant for all people and all nations – not just for the Jews. Today’s encounter with the Canaanite woman shows a change in Jesus’ human consciousness and his human understanding of God’s plan for humanity. How does this change take place? By the woman’s persistence and unwillingness to accept a narrow and restrictive view of God. She realized birth and religious origins cannot hold back the outpouring of God’s love on all people. If we make God too small and puny in love we have not heard the gospel.

Thus, we have two general paths of entry into this story. One, with stress on Jesus’ divinity, seeing his behavior as the all-knowing Lord who draws out of a Gentile the faith that will be preached "to the ends of the earth." The other approach views the human Jesus in an exchange that helps him grow in his mission towards all nations.

The early church, and even our present one, would struggle with the message of inclusivity being affirmed in today’s gospel. Even after the resurrection some in the church thought Jesus’ message should be restricted to Israel, even though Matthew’s gospel ends with the risen Jesus’ mandate to go into the whole world and preach the gospel (28: 18-20).

God has included us in Jesus’ message of forgiveness and reconciliation. We didn’t do anything to earn that inclusion, it was handed to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and we have accepted the invitation to the table where the food of God’s reign is given us. Gathered at this table we hear the risen Jesus’ mandate to proclaim the message to all.

Are there any people or groups who are automatically included in our circle of friends and church members? Are any overlooked or ignored? Whom do we consider superior? Or, inferior and not worth our time? In other words, who are the Canaanites in our lives who are ignored, or quickly brushed aside? Jesus heard the woman’s voice and accepted her. Am I also open to the voices who call out to me for help daily? We are tying to respond to the gospel we have received by doing to others what has been done for us. Just as our God has listened and responded to us, so we offer a willing ear and respond to those who express their needs to us.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:




Thus says the Lord: "Observe what is right, do what is just."

Isaiah 56: 1

A person cannot observe what is right and do what is just without seeking solidarity with others in common causes for the common good. As St. Pope John Paul II writes in "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" (On Social Concern, 1987), solidarity "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all." It is also important to be perfectly clear about the meaning of "common good." Pope Francis explains the term in this way: [common good] "is much more than the sum of individual interests. It moves from "what is best for me" to "what is best for everyone". It embraces everything which brings a people together: common purpose, shared values, ideas which help us to look beyond our limited individual horizons" (7/8/15). Solidarity and the common good are two key elements of Catholic social teaching as we strive to be a "universal" church.

What are our tasks in undertaking solidarity? Marie J. Giblin, PhD, and Chair of the Theology Department at Xavier University, writes in a "Catholic Update" on solidarity (2007) that "The first task of solidarity is the willingness to be educated even when the information makes us uncomfortable. The second challenging task is to find ways to do something about the knowledge one gains. This is a question of morally guided imagination, which church members have." On the first task to educate ourselves, adult Catholics often do not avail themselves of learning opportunities to widen their world view by stepping out of their box to learn about others’ lives. Many wonderful seminars are offered in area parishes that either are under-attended or filled with the same familiar faces.

Catholicism goes beyond the Sunday Mass to be a way of life. This is where the second task as Catholics comes into action. . .what to do with the knowledge that has been gained. The answer is simple, respond after becoming informed. We have many social justice causes here at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in need of your "morally guided imagination." Check it out under "Get Involved" on our website. Become truly "Catholic" in solidarity for the common good.

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral

Raleigh, NC


Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district [Tyre and Sidon] came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!"...

Then Jesus said to her in reply,

"O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.


Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for his lack of strict observance of religious customs and traditions. He responded by calling them hypocrites who only pay lip service to God. In contrast, Jesus praised the pagan Canaanite woman for having great faith. So, who are the truly pious and observant in Jesus’ eyes? Those who see in him God’s gracious desire to heal, forgive and welcome to the table.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Who are the "Canaanites" in our society, those we would push aside as unimportant and second class?
  • Is it possible that in listening to them we might hear God speaking to us?
  • Have I ever discovered God in surprising ways and in the most unusual people?


"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Ted Prevatte #0330166 (On death row since 2/22/99)
  • Raymond Thibodeaux #0515143 (3/2/99)
  • Lyle May #0580028 (3/18/99)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:


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If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

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1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilias Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at

3. Our webpage: - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736


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