Scripture Reflections

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2017



"O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

This woman was an outsider. She was a Canaanite, not an Israelite, and as such she would have been considered ritually unclean. But she approached Jesus nonetheless and asked for his help. And Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples an important lesson.

In the verses directly before today's passage, Jesus had told Peter that what defiles a person comes from the heart, not from ignoring external purity practices. Then, Jesus traveled with his disciples from Galilee to the region of Tyre and Sidon where they were much more likely to encounter someone considered to be unclean.

At first it appeared that Jesus wasn't going to acknowledge the woman who begged for help. His comment, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs," was a common comparison between Jews (the children) and Canaanites (the dogs). But, in fact, Jesus said this only to go right ahead and break this social code! He showed by his actions that it did not matter whether someone was Jewish or not, what mattered was the faith in a person's heart. And this woman proved to Jesus and the doubting disciples that she had great faith. How many others would have even approached Jesus to ask for his help? How many others would have persevered when he appeared unresponsive? By pausing in his response, and first mentioning the standard reply, Jesus gave this woman the opportunity to demonstrate her great faith. And then, he answered her request and praised her extraordinary faith. What a lesson for his prejudiced disciples! And what a lesson for us, both to persevere in faith, and never to judge others on mere appearances.





Our relationships often need reconciling and healing. While it is easy to say, it is often difficult to achieve. Sometimes, reconciling requires that we take down the barriers that are sources of division, remove our prejudices, look beyond differences, and see the "sameness" that connects us one to another. Of course, each party has to be willing to do this in order for healing to occur. Our Gospel shows us the healing that can occur when both parties are willing participants.





Matthew 15:21-28
What do you think most impressed Jesus about the Canaanite woman?

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
According to Isaiah, "observe what is right, do what is just" is the Lord's expectation for ALL people. How do you measure up to this divine code of conduct?

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
In Romans 9-11, Paul wrestles with the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. In today's reading, how does Paul determine that this rejection ("disobedience") actually helps the Gentiles?





AUGUST 27, 2017


"And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."


Simon got a new name after his profession of faith. As soon as he declared to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus renamed him with a title that means "rock." And with that name he gave Peter the mission to be a solid foundation upon which he would build his church. Not Peter's church. Not James or Paul's church. Not Martin Luther's or John Calvin's or anybody else's. This is Jesus' church, the church of Christ himself, that we call the Catholic Church.

So it was Christ himself who desired to give authority in the church--"the keys to the kingdom of heaven"--to a human leader. Peter was thus established as the first pope. He exercised a special kind of headship, within the community of the apostles and the church at large, because Jesus gave him the power to do so, not because Peter claimed it for himself. And so too every pope since, right down to our Holy Father today, exercises this unique leadership within the Church.

What a gift this is to us! Jesus knew well the human tendency to squabble and disagree, to argue and compete. He knew that the church would be prone to all of this because of her members, and that providing a final voice of authority, saying in effect that "the buck stops here" would be helpful for maintaining unity. As Catholics, even in spite of the differing opinions and perspectives that are manifest in the Church, we nonetheless maintain a strong sense of identity and belief thanks in large part to the papacy. Today, may we give thanks for the pope and pray for him as he strives to lead all of us closer and closer to Christ.





We all know the given answers to the question: who is Jesus? Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, Lord, and the Christ are some that immediately come to mind. But, who do YOU say that Jesus is? Who we need or want Jesus to be becomes the key to unlocking a relationship with God. For some, Jesus is just a prophet, a wise man, or an inspirational figure in history. These labels keep Jesus in the past and prevent us from really having a living, vibrant relationship with him. If Jesus is more than this to you, then who is he and what purpose does he serve in your life?




Matthew 16:13-20
How would you answer Jesus' question: "Who do you say that I am?"

Isaiah 22:19-23
Shebna, a scribe under King Hezekiah, fell from God's favor for not heeding Isaiah's prophetic warnings. How seriously do you take the word of the Lord?

Romans 11:33-36
Paul's reflections on God come at the end of an extended discussion of where Jews and Gentile fit into God's plan of salvation, Romans 9-11. What do you find compelling in Paul's theological reflections?







"You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."


Peter had expressed horror at the prophetic words announcing that Jesus' suffering and death were imminent. Peter didn't want his friend and teacher to undergo this terrible ordeal. He wanted "no such thing" ever to happen to his Lord. But Jesus sharply rebuked Peter's response, comparing it to that of the tempter, Satan. Just as temptation becomes an obstacle to our doing what is right, so Peter was presenting an obstacle to Christ's mission. Suffering was part of it, like it or not. To deny this difficult element of Christ's work would be to deny the bigger plan of God. And so Jesus rightly told Peter that he wasn't thinking like God thinks.

Of course, since we are human, it's only natural that we should think as human beings do. We, like Peter, tend to recoil at the idea of facing unpleasant or painful circumstances. But clearly God sometimes allows such situations to take place for a greater good. Jesus understood this; even as he prophesied about his death, he also mentioned his resurrection.

Today's Gospel challenges us to think "as God does" by holding both of these elements together. Unlike Peter who only focused on the sad part of the story, we are called to recognize the Resurrection on the other side of the cross, and to be willing to do whatever is necessary to get there. In fact, Jesus tells us later in this Gospel to take up our cross and follow him. That is not the "human" way of thinking. It's the Godly way. Our natural response is to reject and scorn the trials and tribulations that we face, but Jesus wants us to embrace them patiently and "come after" him on the (sometimes rough) road to eternal life.



Even as people of faith we often find ourselves reasoning our way through our trials and difficulties. It makes a huge difference using our own eyes and not those of God. God knows that we live in an imperfect world filled with suffering, pain, difficulties, disappointments, and death; all part of the mix. Jesus shows us by example that when we encounter hardships God transforms them into something better. We do not need to despair. God gives us hope. When we view our lives through God's eyes and not our own this gift of hope and transformation becomes very apparent. We must lose our lives in order to gain them.




Matthew 16:21-27
Jesus defines true discipleship in the context of his passion prediction. How are you challenged by Jesus' words?

Jeremiah 20:7-9
Jeremiah laments to the Lord for being called to be a prophet. When have you offered a prayer of grief to the Lord?

Romans 12:1-2
Paul advises the Roman Christians to "not conform yourselves to this age." What does being "conformed to this age" look like in twenty-first century America?