16  August 2020: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by FR. Clyde, Parochial Vicar

“God does not discriminate against anyone!”

The famous church song: “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, now I am found, was blind but now I see” is composed by John Newton.

The life of John Newton is very “dramatic” as one author would describe him.

When he was seven years old, his mother died. His father remarried and John had a formal education only until the age of eleven.

At eleven, he left the school and joined his father’s ship and became a sailor. By the age of seventeen, he became an expert sailor.

Later, he fought with his father and began his life as an independent sailor. His work was capturing, transporting and selling black slaves as plantation workers to the West Indies and the Americas.

As long as he had money, he did not bother as to how he earned or spent it. He had all the vices of a sailor. God was very far from his life.

One day, there was a severe storm in the sea. His ship was tossed by the waves like a toy. He feared that all the men on the board would die. That day, he did something which he had not done for a long time: he knelt down and prayed to God, he said: “Lord! Help us to reach the shore safely. And I promise to be your slave all my life.”

Miraculously, the storm subsided. They reached the shore safely. He kept his promise. He studied for the ministry and became a preacher.

John Newton received the blessings of Jesus because of his faith at the time of his prayer. If we go by the nature of his life — vicious, rebellious and hardheaded, he was not fit to receive any mercy from God.

By his very nature, he was supposed to be disqualified to receive God’s blessing, but because of his faith, he received God’s protection and blessings. 

Therefore, faith supplied what John Newton lacked by nature.

My dear brothers and sisters, in today’s Gospel, we have heard the incident of the Syro-Phoenician woman. She was a Gentile, a non-Jewish woman. In other words, she was a foreigner. During the time of Jesus, a foreigner should not receive the same treatment and or receive privileges same with the local citizens.

To the request of this Syro-Phoenician woman for the healing of her daughter, Jesus answered very harshly and rashly saying: “Can we take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Let us remember that Jesus was using a common sarcastic Jewish term for a Gentile, when He called this Gentile woman a ‘dog’. The lesson that we can learn from the episode of the Canaanite woman is that God does not discriminate against anyone. The woman was not a Jew. For the Jews who were ultra-nationalistic, helping or doing a favor for a non-Jew was not only forbidden but even considered a grave offence.

But as expected, Jesus is always known for His kindness and compassion. He came to heal us, and not to insult us.

Do you think Jesus called this woman a ‘dog’ just to insult her? The answer is: NO. Jesus called that woman a ‘dog’ not to insult her, but to teach her and all the others through a shocking method that what recommends a person to God’s mercy is not by race or blood or citizenship or cultures or language, but by FAITH!

But what made Jesus looked His merciful gaze upon this Canaanite woman? According to one Bible scholar, it is because her faith in God has three very strong characteristics:

“First, her faith is personal. She is the one begging the Lord even if she is rejected and denied and even receives silent treatment from the Lord Himself, she goes on and on. She is personally crying and begging that Jesus may grant this favor. She does not ask somebody to ask Jesus in behalf of her, unlike many of us.

Second, her faith is persistent. She is aggressive and insistent but not for her own benefits but for the one she dearly so loves, her daughter. She risks being rejected and rebuked and she is, but she is persistent and she is rewarded.

Third, her faith is cheerful. Cheerfulness is not the same as merriment. It is because in merriment, only our lips and teeth are smiling. But in cheerfulness, it is not only our lips and teeth that are smiling but also our hearts. This Canaanite woman offers us a faith that is cheerful. In the sense that even if Jesus calls her, ‘a dog,’ this does not make her down and get discouraged.”

My prayer today is that all of us would have that same strong, persistent, personal and cheerful faith as the Canaanite woman. Amen.