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Youth Ministry Resources - 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year A: Matt 15:21-28 - The Canaanite woman - 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's gospel does not portray Jesus in the best light. In fact, it is a pagan woman who challenges Jesus who is presented well. In the passage prior to this reading, Jesus has been explaining what makes a person 'clean' or 'unclean' and then travels to gentile country which, according to the Pharisees, makes him 'unclean.' So Jesus willingly goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon a place where good Jews do not go where he encounters a Canaanite woman who cries out to him.

This is rather shocking behaviour because she is a woman in a man's world, speaking publicly to a male stranger. In a 1st Century Mediterranean world, men did not speak to women in public, even if they were wife or daughter, the rules were very strict. This woman has no shame because she is desperate to get help for her daughter, so she risks everything and would not be quiet. Jesus ignores her.

This nameless woman is doubly marginalised because she is a woman and she is a gentile and Jesus states quite clearly that he has come to gather the lost sheep of Israel - Jews only thank you. However, the woman's desperation, humility and faith impel her towards Jesus and on her knees begs Jesus for help. What ensures is one of the best debates in the Scriptures - brief, with great wit, humility and faith - these are the essential attributes.

Jesus is convinced by the woman's arguments and so the pendulum swings from ignoring her to Jesus giving her the most generous praise because she is the only person in Matthew to be described as having "great faith." There would be numerous times in our lives when we have repeated the woman's cry, "Lord, help me" and imagined ourselves pleading at the feet of Jesus, desperate to hear words of consolation and encouragement.

This woman also teaches us to be confident in our relationship with God. Confident and persistent in our convictions sure in the knowledge that God will always listen to us. We who are not Jewish have her to thank that the Christian mission was extended beyond the lost sheep of Israel out to all people. We see this mission continuing today where God's message of love and salvation is offered to everyone. We do not live in a perfect world and so it is up to us to remain on "mission" as we live out our Baptism, nourished through Eucharist to be Christ in our part of the world.

Cate Mapstone

Youth Ministry Resources 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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Youth Ministry Resources 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time