Sunday Word

Lord, help me

Father David Scotchie
Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps 67:2-3,5,6,8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28

Next Sunday, Jesus pops The Question. He does not ask the disciples, “What is God like?” He gets personal. “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus walking on the water gave the disciples one ready answer. “Truly, you are the Son of God!” As is proper before God, they worshipped him.

In the gospel reading this Sunday from Matthew, Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman makes us wonder about that answer.

Recall that the Canaanite woman came after him and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

At first, Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. When she persisted and did him homage, “Lord, help me,” the master of compassion said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Who do you say that Jesus is? Well, Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman pleading for her daughter. Then he called her a dog. To our modern ears, Jesus is a jerk.

Normally, Jesus is like a big brother whose example makes us look bad no matter how hard we try. He forgives his enemies, fasts for forty days and nights, and suffers and dies a horrible death on the cross. Finally! In the encounter with that Canaanite woman, Jesus is human!

Jesus was a Jewish man of his times. As such, men did not deal directly with women, especially with non-Jewish women (recall the Samaritan woman at the well). And worse, she was a Canaanite and, as every Jewish man knew and memories were long, Canaanites were ancient enemies of the Jews.

Jesus was on a God-given mission to his own people, not to the Canaanites. He healed the sick and preached the kingdom of God to the Jewish people that they draw the nations to worship the one true God.

Centuries earlier, the Lord had made a promise. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). In the time of Isaiah, “all peoples” scandalously included eunuchs and outcasts and even Canaanites. Regardless of birth, the Lord was for everyone.

We were not born Catholic. Christianity was not our heritage by birth. Given new birth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, you and I are made, not born, children of God. The Lord is Lord for everyone.

That relentless Canaanite woman put her faith in Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times she addressed him as Kyrios, Lord. She called him “Son of David,” the heir to the throne given to King David by the Lord. She worshipped him.

And behold, Jesus transcended his times. In fulfillment of the promise from Isaiah, he declared, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

The woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. Like a divine Doctors Without Borders, Jesus is the Savior of the nations. Fully human, fully divine, he gathers all peoples in one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

To take to prayer: How do you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” n

Father David Scotchie is pastor of Nativity Parish in Longwood.

Sunday Word, August 9

Father David Scotchie
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

In Part One last Sunday, we saw that Jesus fed the hungry crowd. We can answer his question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the words from the psalm, “You are the hand of the Lord who feeds us” (Psalm 145).

That question “Who do you say that I am?” has more than one answer.

Part Two picks up the story after Jesus fed the people. Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side while he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

That night the boat was being tossed about by the waves for the wind was against it. The disciples saw him walking on the sea. They were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they cried out in fear.

Walking on water is the prerogative of God. “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea” (Job 9:8). Recalling the Exodus and the Red Sea, “Through the sea was your path; your way, through the mighty waters, though your footsteps were unseen. You led your people like a flock under the care of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:20-21).

I am reminded of the Nancy Sinatra hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.” Waves and wind, no problem, just walk all over them. Jesus came towards the disciples, walking on the sea.

The ancients believed that the world was made of earth, wind, fire, and water. In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah sheltered in a cave on Mount Horeb, the very same Mount Horeb where Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush. Elijah waited for God to pass by. The Lord was not in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in “a sound of sheer silence” (NRSV). God was not in the four elements of creation for he was their Maker.

Winds and waves had no power over Jesus because Jesus had made them. Demons that inhabited the depths had no power over him. While our culture would limit God’s domain to Sunday morning, irrelevant to pandemics and politics, Jesus reveals himself as the Lord of earth, wind, fire, and the sea and its demons.

The disciples were rightly terrified. Scripture says you cannot see the face of God and live. Elijah hid his face in his cloak before he went to the entrance of the cave. Being in the presence of the eternal Creator who tread upon the crests of the sea, who wouldn’t be terrified?

After Jesus and Peter got in the boat (that’s another homily), the wind died down. Those in the boat no longer cried, “It is a ghost!” but, “Truly, you are the Son of God!” Having seen Jesus master the waves and wind and command Peter to walk on water, they worshipped him. “Truly, you are the Son of God!” Worship is our first and best response before God.

The story gives us a clearer picture of who we worship. We have another answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” But we would not be Christian if we did not have another picture of God as well.

In the other picture, Jesus is not walking on the sea, but hanging on the cross; not all powerful but all weak; not sharing his power but sharing our suffering. Yet, worthy of worship.

Here and now, in the presence of almighty God, our crucified God, we worship. Bow down and worship.

To take to prayer: Reflect on the Sunday gospel and see yourself in the boat with the disciples. Who do you say that Jesus is?

“Who do you say that I am?”

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Aug. 2
Is 55:1-3; Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21

In a few Sundays, we hear how Jesus sits down with his apostles in the imperial city of Caesarea Philippi and asks them point blank, “Who do you say that I am?” He does not want to know who other people say he is. He wants to know who his own followers say he is.

The next few weeks help us to get ready to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is easy to answer Jesus’ question from the head. Jesus, though, wants an answer from the heart. To get it, he goes for the stomach. Just look at the first reading for this Sunday.

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord makes an open invitation. “Come!” He is calling to his people captive in exile. Two generations earlier, the Babylonians had invaded Judah, captured Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carried the people into captivity in distant Babylon. They had lost everything. The covenant with the Lord was broken. They are not sure, once freed, whether the Promised Land held anything for them to return to.

The Lord now makes incredible promises. “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” The Lord knows that the way to the heart is through the stomach!

In the gospel, a vast crowd follows Jesus to a deserted place far from home. Moved with pity, he cured their sick. In the evening, they were hungry. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish that his disciples had. He said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. All ate and were satisfied. There were even leftovers!

Today, we can give a solid response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus is the one who feeds his people, body and soul.

We do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Mat 4:4b). Jesus gives that, too. He is the word of life. One commentator stated that the five loaves of bread correspond to the five books of Moses, and the two fish represent the law and the prophets. Food and scripture go together like body and soul.

In the Eucharist, Christ gives us true food and true drink. He gives us himself.

The promises of the Lord from of old came to pass. Eventually the people were freed from exile and returned to Jerusalem. In Christ, an eternal covenant was made. We respond with the words of the Psalm 145, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”

To take to prayer: When did the hand of the Lord feed you and answer your needs?

Father David Scotchie is pastor of Nativity Parish in Longwood.

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