Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

In today’s liturgy we learn that not only is life unpredictable and full of surprises but that our God is full of surprises.  In the First Reading we hear the prophet Isaiah speaking to those who are privileged to hold the position of God’s chosen people. They have been trusted with a deposit of faith and the lineage of the promised messiah. But Isaiah upsets the predictability of their privileged position by suggesting that even foreigners will be welcomed into the kingdom of God.

The Second Reading contains the same message of surprise and unpredictability. Paul is struggling with Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the messiah. He turns to the gentiles to preach the good news, hoping to “make his own people jealous” so that they would return to their privileged place as God’s chosen ones and wholeheartedly accept Jesus as their messiah. They had predicted that the messiah would be a mighty king who would slay their enemy and restore their power but this gentle peacemaker who associated with sinners was totally beyond their expectations.

The gospel moves away from these general expectations to witness Jesus on a one and one encounter. As always Jesus realizes salvation in his actions. A Canaanite woman approaches him and persistently shouts at him to cure her daughter who is “tormented by a devil”. Jesus at first ignores her and insists that he has been sent to save only the chosen ones. The disciples urge him to send her away. But when she perseveres Jesus praises her for her faith and heals her daughter. The disciples must have been surprised by this apparently unpredictable response.

To complicate the situation a person in those times who had a serious illness was often perceived of as being possessed by demons because either they or their parents were guilty of sin. And furthermore the Canaanites were regarded as a real threat to the religious and political values of the chosen people. For Jesus to step outside these rigid boundaries was shocking.  But Jesus wanted to convey to them that all who have faith in God are subject to his healing power.

As Isaiah proclaimed in the First Reading “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Even though the Canaanite woman was not a predictable candidate for healing, Jesus’ compliance to her persistent demand was a total contradiction of popular religious sentiment. God too is full of surprises. They must learn that God is a God of inclusion not exclusion.

Perhaps if we were to take a good look into our own lives we would recognize something of ourselves in God’s chosen people.

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