20th Sunday of the Year – Yr A
Today’s readings might well be seen simply as a continuation of the readings for last Sunday. In that section we saw Peter failing in his faith: “Why did you doubt, O you of little faith!”. Today we see a foreigner. an alien, and a woman – praised because “O woman, great is your faith!
Peter and the other disciples had been with Jesus for quite some time, and yet they were still lacking in faith. But this woman comes before Jesus for the first time – and yet her faith is great! How to account for this? The other readings today give us insight into this mystery. Isaiah shows us the mysterious choice of God extends to those whom one would least expect: foreigners – but “foreigners who love the name of the Lord” and consequently are fully aware of their own deficiencies and profound need for the Lord, and can fully enter into the house of the Lord, which is to be called “a house of prayer” = a house where all can fully depend on the Lord alone. And Isaiah tells us that “the gifts of the Lord are irrevocable”. God’s plan of salvation for all must be received as sheer gift, and the way that one accepts this gift is by fully acknowledging our need – our powerlessness = our total impotence of ourselves –
The history of salvation is a repeated story of our human tendency to feel that, while it is nice to have God’s help and love, yet ultimately we can really do it by ourselves. But Paul reminds us that “God has consigned all people to disobedience that He may have mercy on all”. That disobedience is our deep human tendency to think that “I can really do this on my own”.
But no matter how many times we attempt to reach success in life, we are inevitably brought face to face with our inability – or need for God’s mercy. And that mercy is extended when we realize that I am nothing but a poor dog, seeking the scraps from the master’s table. This is what it means to live in “the house of the Lord” – it is only by realizing our constant need for the Lord’s power – not mine – in order to reach our goal.
The Cananite woman stands as an exemplar of this attitude, whereas Peter stands as an exemplar of the spirit of trust in himself until he is on the cusp of drowning. Then he also realizes his helplessness and cries out to God alone – which is what a house of prayer is to be.
St Benedict calls the monastery a “house of prayer” – a house where we can all live in this awareness of our total dependence on God alone. But we know that we do not habitually live with that awareness. All too often we tend to live in a sense that “I can do this of and by myself”. But then we run into situations daily which show us that such is not the case – that we are helpless and constantly in need of the mercy of God and of the brethren. This is why Benedict places obedience and humility as the cornerstones of this house of God- the two virtues which we all daily struggle with and all too often fail in. This is our daughter who all too often is caught by a demon.
But all that is required of us is to follow the example of the Cananite woman and turn to the Lord with the humble cry: “Lord, save me! I’m drowning.”
Perhaps that is something of what this time of pandemic is to teach all of us – to bring us to fully cry out: “Lord, save me!”