Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20, 2023
What’s behind a story? Specifically, what’s behind today’s Gospel story? There Jesus meets a Gentile mother who pleads for an exorcism for her daughter. Surprisingly, Jesus says that his mission is only to Israel. But after the woman persists Jesus acknowledges her faith, and finally grants her petition for healing. So, what’s behind this unusual story?
Scripture scholar Father Donald Senior suggests that the story points to the “mission theology” of the fledgling Christian community that gave rise to the Gospel of Matthew. Did some early Christians hesitate to take the gospel beyond the limits of Israel? Historically, probably Jesus didn’t take his preaching much beyond his own people, with relatively few Gentile contacts. And yet, the gospel message was destined to reach the “ends of the earth” after Christ’s resurrection.
So, the evangelist–who probably ministered to a community consisting of both Jews and Gentiles–wanted to make such a wider audience part of his own community’s “mission plan.” Matthew relates a story that shows how a mission to the Gentiles could still respect the historical role of Israel in first hearing the Good News.
That missionary task–which is still ours today–demands the persistence and faith of that Canaanite mother who first confronted Jesus.