20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A • August 16, 2020 at St. Luke’s

Our readings this Sunday all share a very clear theme that can perhaps be summed up in our responsorial psalm: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” In other words, that God’s salvation is for all peoples, for every nation, so that we all might one day be united in doing what God created us to do: to praise and glorify him for all eternity. God of course does not need our praise and glory; He didn’t create just so He could be praised and glorified by his creatures forever. Rather, God created us out of love so that He might love us and let us share us in his glory for all eternity. He desires our greatest good for our sake, not His, and we will experience our greatest good by praising and giving glory to God in heaven. If all of that sounds incomprehensible, don’t worry, God will prepare you for it and make you able to do it, as long as you are open to it.

The unity of all nations in heaven is a promise that has been made but of course is not yet fulfilled. When it comes to pass, there will be no more strife, conflict, or war. Truly what a blessed eternal day that will be. But we are of course not there yet. Where God unites, the devil seeks to divide. And division has abounded ever since the first sin of Adam and Eve. What did they do when the Lord asked them about the fruit they had eaten? Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent. One of their sons, Cain, killed Abel, another of their sons, out of jealousy. And the division of sin has never ceased since then.

That is what sin does: it divides. The devil wants to divide us because then we become more isolated from others, and we are weaker and more vulnerable to temptation when we are isolated. And we see sin and the division it causes in our own day and our own country, as wealthy and as technologically advanced as it is. Wealth and technology are great, but they don’t by themselves heal division. For that we need God.

I think we are all aware of the human tendency towards “us vs. them.” We have seen this dynamic play out in our own lives. I’ve mentioned before how the kids at the Catholic grade school I attended loathed the kids who attended the Catholic grade school one mile away, even though we were all from essentially the same background. How many of us remember being in school: a new student comes, and they are shunned because they are not “one of us”? How many were that unfortunate student who was shunned by the others?

We make all kinds of distinctions to determine who is one of us and who is not. This of course is not all bad: it is normal to feel an affinity with people who share your culture, language, nationality, ethnic background, alma mater, profession, whatever. Clubs and groups and associations are all a perfectly normal part of the human experience and exist because of the innate human desire for community. These are good things. But the danger comes in when we look down on others because they are different, aren’t from our group (whatever that group might be), don’t share our way of life, and so on. And then if something bad happens, or things don’t seem to be the way we think they should be, we start looking for a scapegoat and pin the blame on “the other”.

Racism is one classic example. Personally, I have never really “understood” racism – if one can say it could be understood. Actually I don’t think it really can be understood because it is not logical. It’s not logical that someone be considered of less value or worth or dignity because of their race, the color of their skin, or whatever. God created each one of us in His own image and likeness and gives each one of us an inherent dignity that no one and nothing can take away. And Jesus clearly gave his disciples – that includes us by the way – the commission to “go and make disciples of all nations”. Nothing about stay away from this country, or stay away from that group of people. We hear it in our first reading today from Isaiah: “The foreigners who join themselves to me…all who…hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain….”. The “foreigners” referred to here are anyone who is not a Jew. The Lord originally established His covenant with the Jewish people, but in order to bring salvation to all peoples through them.

In our Gospel, it might sound like Jesus is being a little harsh with the poor Canaanite woman who comes to him begging that he heal her daughter. At first he seems to ignore her, and then when his disciples tell him to send her away, he responds, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Why in the world would Jesus react this way to this poor woman? Is he being heartless? Of course not. Jesus can read hearts and knows what is best for this woman, and by testing her faith in this way, he gives her the opportunity to grow in faith. Rather than being discouraged by Jesus’ seeming rejection, however, she persists and in doing so shows even more faith in Jesus. And he praises her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

She was not a Jew but a Gentile. But as we know, Jesus came also to save the Gentiles, by first going to the Jewish people. And the Gentiles too were capable of faith, as this Canaanite woman shows. A couple things that we can learn from all this: one is that we ought to persevere in our prayer to the Lord, like this Canaanite woman. The Lord’s promises are not yet fulfilled, but they will be. We must persevere in our prayer, trusting that the Lord will hear us and will respond in his time and in the way he sees fit – which ultimately will be for our own good.

And the other thing we can learn from this – or should remind ourselves of – is that God calls each one of us to salvation. That includes the people we can’t stand, the people we disagree with, those who have hurt us, our enemies…. Of course, not everyone may respond to this call, but God does call everyone. We must look beyond the divisions and the differences and strive to see everyone as a child of God and desire that everyone become a brother and sister in the Lord. The more who respond to the call, the more souls will be saved, the more souls who will be united in heaven in an eternal hymn of praise and glory to God. This is what God calls us to; this is what He has created us for.