20th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Is. 56: 1-7
Rom. 11: 13-32
Mt. 15: 21-28
INTRODUCTION: Christians have always held for centuries since St. Augustine that everything is GRACE: that no one deserves anything, that you are being given GIFTS without you meriting them and, therefore, we should never complain about inequalities. But is that fair that some people are clearly chosen by God, while others are not? Let us try to reconcile this dilemma from the Word of God in our first reading from Isaiah and from our Gospel for today.
(1) RELIGION OF KARMA VS. RELIGION OF GRACE: Stephen Davies wrote a Book on Philosophy of Religion and distinguishes two religious approaches KARMA vs. GRACE. The Karma approach says, by some cosmic spiritual law, we are punished or rewarded according to our behavior. If we do good, we will be rewarded; if we do bad things, we are punished either here or hereafter. Karma may be delayed, not always “instant” as sung by John Lennon. A Religion of GRACE says all people are sinners but God out of sheer generosity gives gifts that they do not really deserve and have not merited. “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” This is the theme song of the Religion of Grace.
OBJECTION: If grace is a gift that even a wretched one gets it, how come only some get it and not the others? How can it be fair that some get eternal life through no merit of their own? No one deserves it rightly but God gives it anyway to whoever he likes. Don’t complain about inequalities! The problem becomes more acute when we read in the Bible from beginning to end that God chooses Abel not Cain, Abraham not Lot, Jacob not Isau, etc. . . Israel as a Chosen People over any other nation not because it is the greatest but the smallest. How can we reconcile this dilemma?
(2) THE PROPHET ISAIAH was not underplaying that Israel was especially chosen by God. “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord and becoming his servants — them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (v. 6-7) Israel was indeed chosen, singled out, and uniquely graced but precisely for the world, not for itself. This saves a Religion of Grace from being arbitrary. Grace is a gift: when you hoard it, you undermine its nature as a gift. The whole point of a gift is not to keep it for oneself but to give it away in turn. If you cling to it, you lose it; if you give it away, it is renewed within you. That is the biblical message: the Gospel of Grace. Yes, we are wretched but we are graced; we don’t deserve it but God gives us gifts so as to become now a vehicle of grace for the whole world.
(3) The Canaanite Woman of the Gospel has the same message. An outsider is in dire need. She turns to Jesus for a solution. Jesus rejects her to test if she will give up on him too! “My mission is only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (v. 24) The reaction of Jesus’ inner circle of friends is worse: “Send her away! She is a nuisance” (v. 23) Reminds me of the attitude of our people today towards the nuisance of our society. The Canaanite persists “Please, Lord! Help me!” (v. 25) I hear in her pleading the pakiusap of those same nuisance of our society condemned to die at the poke of a gun at the hand of those who wield power in our Land.
Like those who wield power in our Country, Jesus plays a hardened heart on the Woman: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” (v. 26) Jesus seems not to be the usual Joshua in adding insult by calling her a dog unmindful of the pains she is going through. Perhaps Jesus woke up that day on the wrong side of the bed for some lack of sleep the night before. But Jesus was caught by surprise with the Woman’s repartee: “Yes, Lord, even dogs eat the leavings/crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” (v. 27) Jesus noticed not just her cleverness but her correct understanding of the choice of Israel and he gives her request!
CONCLUSION: How do I receive grace? Undeservedly but God gave me life, the faith from my family, specially from my parents, the Priesthood, etc. I don’t hoard them for myself. Instead I enjoy them to serve the others who will benefit for all my giftedness. Yes, we have a choosy God . . .but not so much this rather than that but rather this for that!
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches