During today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 56:1, 6-7], we heard the Words of the Lord God, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." [Is. 56:7] In this prophetic exhortation and warning, the Lord promised to bring to His holy mountain all the foreigners, the Gentiles, who unite themselves to Him.
This particular passage from the Holy Scriptures placed an emphasis on the Temple of the Lord, on worship, on the Sabbath, on fasting and on the Law. At the same time, there was a reference to universal salvation, the necessity for purification and the fulfillment of hopes through the arrival of the promised Messiah. In summary, today's passage from the Holy Bible echoed the fulfillment of the Heavenly Father's Divine plan that was manifested by our Lord Jesus Christ who instituted the Holy Catholic Church.
God gave two commands, "Maintain justice, and do what is right." [Is. 56:1] Not only were the people commanded to do what is right on a personal basis, but they were also commanded as a people to maintain justice. That means that God's people was expected to obey the Laws of Moses that were handed down from generation to generations. The Laws of Moses were actually Divine Laws, these having been given to Moses by God Himself.
Unity to God was conditional. Those who wished to be united to the Lord God, they were required to serve Him as servants. They were required to love the Most Holy Name of the Lord, not to profane it. They were required to keep the sabbath, holding fast to the Covenant of the Lord. These are the ones that the Lord God promised to recognize as His children, those that He would bring to His holy mountain, bringing joy to them in His House of Prayer. [Is. 56:7]
"The House of Prayer for all peoples," [Is. 56:7] formerly known as the Temple, is now called the Church, the Church being the physical building in which the faithful worship the Lord God. If you recall, Jesus made reference to the "House of Prayer for all the nations" [Mt. 21:13; Mk. 11:17; Jn. 2:16] when He drove the money- changers from the Temple. In the Gospel of John, [Jn. 2:13-22] the application of the House of Prayer is developed to mean more than the physical building of gathering for worship. The House of Prayer, the Temple, is defined as consisting of Jesus' own body.
During today's Second Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, [Rom. 11:13-15, 29-32] we heard that God's gift and calling to Israel was irrevocable. This Reading was a follow-up of an earlier Chapter that addressed Israel's failure to accept Christ because of its own denial. [Rom. 10:1-21] Israel's rejection of Christ was not because God's promises had failed. For God had foreseen in His election of Israel as His people that in time, they would harden their hearts and reject the truth.
While Paul expressed sorrow over Israel's blindness, he is quick to point out that God can make good things come out of everything. Because Israel rejected the opportunity placed before it, the salvific uprightness that was made possible through Jesus [Rom. 10:1-4] the opportunity to believe in Christ was offered to all. When a reference is made to all, this includes Israel, its inclusion being an assurance that its people would not deny having been provided with the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
St. Paul points out to those who are gathered around him, if Israel's rejection resulted in the reconciliation of the world, what would be the result of Israel's acceptance of the Messiah? Surely, it would be a greater glory, the dead obtaining eternal life through Christ. How is this possible? It is because "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." [Rom. 11:29] God's 'word shall not return to Him empty, but it shall accomplish that which He purposed and succeed in the thing for which He sent it." [Is. 55:11]
Speaking of God's Divine mercy, Paul indicated that since God had shown mercy to His people that had disobeyed Him, in all fairness, this same Divine mercy should be shown towards the Gentiles. [Rom. 11:30-1] In fairness to all that nations, God has permitted that they all be touched by the sin of disobedience, this ensuring that all would equally qualify to receive Divine mercy. [Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22]
Today's Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, [Mt. 15:21-28] the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, is one of the rare encounters of Jesus with Gentiles. As you all heard earlier, when Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon, [Mt. 15:21] in Southern Phoenicia, He was approached by a woman who abounded in love for her daughter who was tormented by a demon. [Mt. 15:22] Most likely have heard of the great miracles that Jesus was performing towards the Jewish people, this Canaanite woman took it upon herself to personally locate Jesus and to beg His mercy on her.
What is unusual about this event is that the woman was a Canaanite. In deuteronomic and postdeuteronomic literature, the Canaanites was viewed as a very sinful race that embodied every possible evil and godlessness. The Canaanites were viewed as a nation that was to be exterminated. A it was not the general practice for the Jewish people to mix with the Samaritans, also, it was not the general practice for them to mix with the Canaanites. So what was Jesus to do when He was approached by a race that was avoided by the Jewish people?
At first, he ignored her. He did not answer her at all. [Mt. 15:23] The more Jesus ignored her, the more the woman shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The more the woman shouted, the more the disciples of Jesus were getting annoyed and urged Jesus to send her away so she will stop shouting. [Mt. 15:23] In this particular case, when the disciples were urging Jesus to dismiss the woman, this was not a request to just get rid of her. Based on the exact meaning of the original writing of this passage of the Holy Scripture, their request was for Jesus to dismiss the woman by granting her petition.
To this, Jesus answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." [Mt. 15:24] How harsh these words must have sounded to the woman. It was like saying to her, "God's mercy is only for my people, the Palestinians. You are a Canaanite; go away!" This incident would be similar to someone going to a priest to confess his sins and the priest tells him to go away because he only hears the confessions of those of a certain nationality. Talk about discrimination! Was Jesus going to discriminate?
Anyway, the determined lady knew a good thing when she saw it and she was not about to give up on Jesus. She threw herself at His feet and repeated herself, "Lord, help me." [Mt. 15:25] Jesus responded, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." [Mt. 15:26] To this, she answered, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." [Mt. 15:27] Seeing how great her faith was, she having remarkably persisted, Jesus told her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed instantly." [Mt. 15:28]
The conversation that took place between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is an example of dialogues that are admired in the Near East. Many refer to this type of dialogue as wisdom. Why wisdom? Because it requires a certain ability to match a riddle with a riddle, a wise saying with another wise saying, an insult with another insult, or as in the case of today's Reading, to turn an insult into a commitment. In affirming His having been sent to minister to the Jewish nation, Jesus appeared to be very harsh towards the Canaanite woman. That is because He acted like a real Palestinian of those days.
By granting favour to the persistent woman, Jesus affirmed that He had been sent to institute "a house of prayer for all people." His Kingdom that is on earth now and that is to come was not meant for only one people; it was meant for all the nations. While Saint Paul played a key role in the admission of the Gentiles into the Catholic Church, Jesus had given signs in His ministry that this was to be fulfilled. And the Heavenly Father had repeatedly prophesied this Divine Plan through the prophets of the Old Testament.