Monday, August 11, 2014

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 17, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The Lord says that His justice is about to be revealed. Interestingly, the Septuagint translates as "mercy" not "justice". There's an air of vigilance about this: being always in a state of grace, being prepared for Christ's glorious return, and being ready to depart when we breathe our last.
Today we desperately are in need of our Lord's mercy because in the modern scene of life and culture, God doesn't seem to be a priority. With all the modern conveniences and luxuries that many of us enjoy, perhaps there has never been a time in history that has more distractions or contraptions to turn us away from the Lord. These gizmos, however, need not be the source of temptation. They can be used for the glory of God. It requires that we read God's directions. 

Generally, whenever something requires an assembling of parts, it is wise to read the directions from the manufacturer. The technological advancements of our modern world are gifts from God. So why is it that many of these gifts are used for ungodly purposes? An abuse of God's gifts, however, has been a part of humanity since our first parents in the book of Genesis. The dignity of the human person and the gift of pro-creation and their abuses are very much a part of the moral battlefield of our modern day. 

With satellite, cable, cellular phones, and the internet there has never been a quicker, more convenient and far reaching way to evangelize. And yet these modern luxuries are quite often used for immorality. Gifts from God require discernment as to how He desires His gifts to be used. To discern is to read God's directions; and more importantly, having an intimate union with our Lord makes His directions all the more clear. 

Albert Einstein said: "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." That's an alarming statement from his day which perhaps has elevated to frightening in our day. We've allowed ourselves to behave as if we are a product of technology, as if a life could really come to a screeching halt because one's iPhone was misplaced or lost. We are a product of God, created out of love, given both spiritual and temporal gifts; it is the latter which often seems to be our god, controlling us, instead of vice versa. The Greek word λευθερία appears in the New Testament eleven times.  It translates as "freedom" or "liberty"; and in all eleven cases that word is applied in the sense of the freedom of being faithful servants of God, of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.  That freedom begins at baptism in which the Holy Spirit initiates this freedom, "for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17).  With that kind of freedom offered to us, it's amazing how many of us permit ourselves to be enslaved by "things".   
In this Reading God also talks about keeping "the Sabbath free from profanation". In the apostolic letter, "Dies Domini," Saint John Paul II writes about how Sunday is a day to celebrate the Creator's work, the day of the Risen Lord, a day of joy, rest and solidarity; and at the heart of Sunday is the Eucharistic assembly. In this letter are the written directions of God's will for His gift of the Christian/Catholic Sabbath.These instructions of God were written by a soul having an intimate union with our Lord.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul clearly understood that Christ's saving grace is meant for all and that the conversion of the Gentiles does not mean that it should also be a time of contempt for the Jews; nor should it ever mean that. Paul's pro-Gentile stance does not mean he is anti-house of Israel. Paul, a Jew himself would like nothing more than to have his kindred accept what Jesus has done for us all. Paul also suggests, however, that Israel's non-conformance is part of God's plan to reconcile the world and later it will be a display of God's mercy which will enable the disobedient to also experience "life from the dead" which means conversion. 

The prophet Habakkuk intimates this conversion: "O Lord, I have heard Your hearing and was afraid. O Lord, Your work, in the midst of the years bring it to life; in the midst of the years You shall make it known. When You are angry, You will remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2). Of course, our prayer is that people of all nations and faiths will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

Gospel Commentary
To truly appreciate the comforts of being rich, one must first experience the hardships of being poor. To go from being on the floor hoping that scraps of food will fall from the table to being invited to dine at the King's table can be quite a joyride up the spiritual mountain. And the Food we partake of at the King's table lasts forever. This experience of being both rich and poor may very well be the reason why God allows many of us to experience either a conversion or reversion - to have an epiphany that the grass is not greener on the other side. The Sacrament of Reconciliation also offers us this experience: we come to the King's House of Mercy as beggars; we depart as friends of the King.

The area of Tyre and Sidon was a pagan district. Most likely Saint Matthew's thought process was that Jesus withdrew to this region, a region whose inhabitants were not of the house of Israel, simply to find rest for Himself and His apostles; but as always, Divine Providence is way ahead of us in strategy. Saint Matthew explicitly describes the woman as a Canaanite to show that Christ's grace equally works for those who were at that time considered enemies of the house of Israel. The faith of this woman at the start is evidenced by her addressing Jesus as "Lord, Son of David". Obviously, Christ's renown extended beyond the confines of the house of Israel.

Something interesting occurs here which could easily be missed if one reads this Gospel account too quickly. The silence of Jesus is what drove this woman to implicitly petition His apostles as suggested by the words "she keeps calling out after us". Saint John Chrysostom instructs us that Christ's silence shows that we are to pray with faith, humility and perseverance. Most certainly we see perseverance here as the Canaanite woman "keeps calling out". By His silence, Jesus exercises us in the virtues of humility and patience. There's a beautiful lesson here especially when we are tempted to think that our Lord doesn't answer our prayers or that He's not listening.

The apostles' plea for Jesus to "send her away" is not as harsh or unfeeling as it may seem. Our Lord's response that He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" intimates that Jesus understood the apostles to mean that they wanted Him to grant this woman's prayer first and then send her on her way. Thus, what is actually seen at work here is the power of intercessory prayer, in this account, through the voices of the apostles. And the faith, humility and persistence of this woman is a model for us and mirrors our greatest intercessor - our Blessed Mother.