20th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ Mass readings:
I: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Responsorial: Psalm 67; II: Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28
Compromise. Does this word cause a positive or negative reaction? If one were being asked to seek a compromise in their political views it would often be seen as a positive for an opponent to do and a negative if oneself were expected to share in this difficult verb. Our modern world is so filled with intense differing ideologies, beliefs and opinions. And in this world to compromise is usually seen as a sign of failure or weakness.
Prayer: The readings from Scripture today contain powerful promises and lessons about prayer. So would it not be best if the same question were asked as was above. Does the word prayer cause a negative or positive reaction? As most readers of this message have faith as a part of their life it could be assumed that it would be a positive reaction. Unless we are completely honest. Prayer tends, for many people of faith, to be something we know is good, necessary and…positive. Although, it is far easier to talk or read about prayer than to…pray. Prayer is hard work. It often involves us in facing our conflicts, failures or weakness. True prayer also means that our soul is communicating with God. Not just talking at God, but with God and with listening.
We sometimes are tempted to think that our language, the words we use, are a stable unchanging part of life. But both life and common sense, woven with history clearly shows that language is a very dynamic and changing force. It is probably no accident that Scripture (which contains extraordinary amounts of language challenges) is expressed as the “Living Word of God”. As we accept that language can have many chapters and meanings it invites us to look to what words mean now and what they have meant in times past.
Compromise is just such a word. Now it is commonly defined as a settlement of differences…through mutual concessions. It is thus stained with the concept that to compromise means to reduce the quality or value of something. Therefore for someone to compromise their politics or their faith is seen as a danger to be avoided at all costs. But what did compromise mean in other times and places? When Latin (from which this word comes) was the language of the educated Western world it was expressed as: “comprissum”. It meant: Mutual promise, to promise mutually. It is in this ancient understanding of compromise we can see a powerful lesson from the Living Word of God today. We can realize the gift of Compromising Prayer. We can learn the gifts and graces of building bridges, instead of barriers, with God and each other.
The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading speaks of a vital element of design for the House of God, the Church. It is to be a house of prayer, a place of joy.
And such is the powerful, blessedly joyful reality when we enter into our place of worship and simply pray. The quiet prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration is such a gateway into a secret garden of peace and hope as we wait in His Presence.
And although this image shows a time when social distancing was unheard of, or, for some. intense challenges to their understanding of liturgy it does illustrate some very important truths. The Church, the people of God, IF we are to believe our Scriptures today, is a place for ALL people. It is also a place of letting go of our selfishness and taking the hands of our neighbor, As we become a people and and place of prayer. Perhaps this holy posture of prayer may involve taking the hand of a parishioner with whom you have painful disagreements. Perhaps it may mean taking the hand of someone in your domestic church, your family, who has not been cooperating with your point of view. The Church, the House and People of God needs to grow as a place of prayer, a place of compromising prayer. A place of bridges being built.
Our Gospel today shares the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman who comes to Him desperately seeking deliverance for her demon tormented daughter. To realize the immense lesson of Compromising Prayer this is we need to look at the spiritual geography behind the story.
Jesus has traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon in what is present day Lebanon. He has traveled far from the Roman Province of Judea, over 100 miles, as a crow could fly. Although He knows there are Jews in this ancient Canaanite land it is still, without any doubt, a land, a place, of the Gentiles. It was a place that the disciples of Jesus would not have expected Jesus to take such a journey. For He had come as the Messiah of the Jews. And even though it was a part of what had been the promised land shared through Moses and Joshua it was a land never fully conquered or claimed by the Jews. It was also, sadly and historically, a place of very negative compromises between the Jews and their pagan, idolatrous neighbors.
But with Jesus we see it become a place of Compromising Prayer. The Canaanite woman came to Jesus prayerfully. She does it right. She acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. This praise for God is then followed by her very simple, heartfelt petition. And Jesus ignores her. One of the most difficult places of prayer is when God seems silent. And the disciples weren’t helpful. They complained (now there’s a sad Christian/Catholic tradition). They wanted to send her away. After all, she wasn’t of the right pedigree. But the cruel sins of prejudice cannot abide in God’s Presence, in His place of prayer! Jesus then seems to answer, yet very unfavorably. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This apparent rejection, by Jesus could seem to seal the fate of this woman and her daughter. But what may seem denial or rejection by God can often be a quiet test and invitation to join Him in building a bridge, to work with God in compromising prayer. The woman draws closer to Jesus, gives Him her worship and asks, simply, “Lord, please help me.” Four words of intercession. Jesus then does what seems horridly cruel. He states that it isn’t right to take the food of children and toss it to dogs. He is using both the prejudice and words of the Jews who embraced their assumed superiority. But what Jesus does in seeming meanness is actually a recognition of an immense barrier, a chasm between two peoples. And He is sharing the plans for a bridge. The Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs, specifically the street dogs that were mean, often sick and eating whatever garbage they could scavenge. The Canaanite woman takes the hidden hope. She replies… but Lord even the dogs eat the scraps the children drop on the floor. But she uses another word. She uses the Aramaic word for dog as a household pet, companion. This heroine of faith persists in prayer and does not quit until she knows she has reached Jesus. Jesus then commends her for her faith and affirms her prayers. Her daughter is healed. The mutual promise is shared. True compromise is reached. A bridge is built.
But why is Jesus so seemingly mean about it? If He wanted His house to be for all people why deal the prejudice card? The ways and plans of God are not always easy. Jesus knew the sins of prejudice had to be confronted. He also knew that His Kingdom, needing many bridges and facing many barriers would have to have deep foundations on the bedrock of a relationship of faith and love, Between God and His people. Feelings, passing politics or moods would collapse at the first quake or flood. This lesson about compromising prayer was for the woman and her daughter. It was for the disciples who first thought her unworthy.
And this call to compromising prayer, built upon the promises and designs of God is for us today. Let us build these bridges of healing, hope and faith filled prayer that knows the power of promises shared.