Today’s scripture readings present a united theme across the board: the good news that God’s salvation is available to all who put faith in him, regardless of race, gender, background, or social status. Isaiah launches this movement by speaking the word of the Lord and proclaiming, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa 56:6-7).
Even prior to this, in a verse unfortunately left out of our reading, Isaiah gives hope to the childless, who were tragically seen in ancient cultures as accursed, when he exclaims, “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose what pleases me, and who hold fast to my covenant, I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them” (Isa 56:4-5).
In both of these passages the prophet gives great hope to groups traditionally excluded from worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. By extension he gives hope to all those who, rightly or wrongly, feel excluded from the Church in the present day. Following Isaiah, the responsorial Psalm takes up the same theme of uniting people in worship with its beautiful refrain: “Let all the nations praise you!” (Ps 67:4).
Saint Paul too enters this fraught territory, arguing in a long section of his Epistle to the Romans that even though he and many of his generation had converted to faith in Christ, God would never forget or abandon the Jewish people, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Truly “a monument and a name” for his beloved Jewish people—Yad VaShem in Hebrew—is found in the depths of the very heart of God.
Moving to the Gospel, the lesson that God’s salvific will extends to all who believe comes through powerfully in Jesus’ interaction with a Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon. Tension normally marked the relations between Jews and Canaanites, but this woman cuts through that and boldly exclaims “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon” (Matt 15:22). She ironically calls Jesus by the name that most closely recalls his identification with the people of Israel, “Son of David.”
Though a foreigner and a member of a traditional enemy of Jesus’ own people, her faith in Jesus—as simple as it may have been—and her love for her daughter overcome any sense of alienation and impel her to come to him for healing.
The Lord responds with words that are sharp and were intended to test her resolve: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” When the woman replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” Jesus recognizes her faith and commends her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matt 15:26-28).
He could have closed the woman off from his healing presence, for Jesus “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24), but instead he welcomed her on account of her faith. The next time we encounter someone who seems to stand apart from the household of God yet who shows faith in him, let us pray on their behalf: “Have pity, Son of David” and leave the winnowing of souls—theirs and ours—to God.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Photo: Seth Harbaugh, The Church of the Visitation, Israel, where the Blessed Mother visited her cousin Elizabeth.