The theme which ties each of today’s readings is that God’s salvation is universal and so all are invited to share this wonderful gift. Both the Old Testament and New Testament present salvation as coming through the Jewish People. We understand that we are saved through Jesus who is Jewish and through the Church.
ISAIAH 56:1, 6-7
The first reading is written after the people of Judah have returned from exile in Babylon to their homeland of Judah. Now that the Jews are back in Judah there are foreigners who wish to join themselves to the Lord through keeping the Sabbath free from profanation and holding to God’s covenant. God promises through Isaiah that if they are faithful in these ways, they will enter a saving relationship with God. Through the Jewish people all nations can enter this saving relationship. The prophet says that if foreigners join themselves to the Lord, God will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem and they will become part of God’s People.
ROMANS 11:13-15, 29-32
Five hundred years after our first reading from Isaiah the prophet, Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome. Paul believes that Gentiles are saved through the Jewish People in that they are saved through Jesus who is Jewish. In our second reading Paul writes that he is the Apostle to the Gentiles meaning that God has called Paul to invite Gentiles to salvation through Jesus Christ. For Paul who was a dedicated Jew, he has a sense of anguish that most of the Jewish people have not accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Since the Jews have rejected Jesus Christ, the promises offered to them are now being extended to the Gentiles. Even though the Jewish people have been disobedient to God, God does not take away the promises that he has made to them. Paul believes that ultimately the Jewish People will be saved through the mercy of God.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus states that his mission of preaching and ministry is only for the Jewish People and not for Gentiles. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, at his ascension, Jesus will send the apostles to go out and preach, baptize and make disciples of all the nations.
In the Gospel a Canaanite woman, out of her motherly love, comes up to Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. The Canaanites were the original people who lived in the Holy Land and fought against the Jews when they settled in the Holy Land. The woman shows her faith in Jesus by calling him Lord and Son of David, which were titles of the Jewish Messiah. In the reading Jesus at first doesn’t even respond to the woman. Jesus’ disciples then tell Jesus to send her away since she is calling out after them. Jesus finally tells her that he has only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The woman then comes forward and prostrates herself before Jesus and again asks Jesus to help her daughter. Jesus than says, “It is not right to take the food of the sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs (Matthew 15:26).” “Dogs” was a pejorative term used by Jews in referring to Gentiles. The word that Jesus uses for dog is actually “puppy” which makes the saying less harsh. He is saying that for now God’s salvation is only for the Jewish people.
The woman will not be put off by Jesus’ response and courageously says, “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from the master’s table (Matthew 15:27).” Although she is a Gentile, she believes that God’s mercy is for her and her daughter. In a startling turn of events, Jesus heals the daughter because of the great faith of her mother. The courage of the Canaanite woman causes Jesus in this instance to change his mission. The great faith of this woman convinces Jesus to share God’s mercy with her.
This woman becomes a model of barrier breaking and courageous faith. She won’t take “no” even from Jesus. We likewise are to persevere in prayer even when it seems that our prayers are not being answered. The actions of the women remind us that faith involves not only trust in God but also action on our part.
The readings also present God’s salvation as being for all people in the world. We are to see ourselves as missionary disciples who go out and bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to those around us. This may mean helping to strengthen the faith of others and inviting both fallen away Catholics and those who do not practice any faith to experience the joy, faith and hope of following Christ.