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A Scripture Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Christina Zaker | August 20, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2017: Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28

I read today's Gospel first through my lens as a mother. I see a mother distraught with the torment her daughter is experiencing. She has heard about this man, Jesus, and his miracles and is willing to seek his help despite the opinion that he is there only for the "lost sheep of Israel." Her love for her daughter is so strong that she will do what it takes to bring her to wholeness. It is a picture of desperation and determination: of a mother willing to cross borders and cultural norms to claim her daughter's share of Jesus' Good News.
As I read deeper, this reading also touches me with its perspective on borders or boundaries. In Matthew's version of this story, Jesus has not yet arrived in the region of the Canaanites and we see the mother come forth and call out to him, indicating perhaps that she left her own land to encounter him at the border. This is a meaningful detail: borderlands, either physical or ideological, are places where different people meet. We can either clash at boundary lines or we can come willing to engage in dialogue and be transformed. It is the shared vulnerability of neither person standing on their own soil that fosters perspective, and maybe even compassion, on the border.
We see that playing out in this Gospel.  Both Jesus and the mother leave their comfort zones, meet at the border and engage in a relationship. The mother shows great courage as she crosses borders and gender-related customs and calls out to him. She shows even more courage and faith to not back down when he first ignores her and then puts her off. She will not take no for an answer; she is there to claim her daughter's right to a seat at the banquet, despite the assumptions that she has no place there. Because of her great love and courage, Jesus responds with God's compassion. Although at first he ignores her pleas, he eventually enters into dialogue with her and in that encounter recognizes her deep faith.
In theological reflection seminars here at CTU, I am constantly asking my students to consider "who is not at the table." Theological reflection involves discussing an experience from the students' ministry practicum to integrate what they are learning from the process. It is important for them to realize that their perspective is not the only way to interpret an event. Thus the question, "who is not at the table" becomes a way to encourage them to think of those who might be marginalized from the discussion or who do not have a voice in the larger scene. The question invites them to consider perspectives that could challenge their own. In this story, Jesus is essentially encountering someone who does not have a place at his table. Yet in hearing her experience and entering into dialogue, he builds a relationship with her, sees from her perspective, is moved with compassion, and makes room for her at the table.
This mother's love moves her to act with great faith and courage and it is love and faith that move Jesus as well. In seeking a place at the table for her daughter, she is also essentially paving the way for all in her community to be a part of his picture. In this encounter, Jesus' response is an example of how those in positions of authority make room at the table for those who are vulnerable. Initially, his response may have been different, but God's Good News is about compassion and building right relationships. His willingness to meet her in the middle, to engage in dialogue and see her for her great faith allows the relationship to guide the response.
In our own day we can see this story repeated in desperate parents willing to risk their lives to cross borders to bring wholeness to their children and families or in people attempting to find paths to peace amidst hateful protests. It takes great courage to leave our comfort zone and risk how others might respond. Today's first reading promises that even "foreigners who love the name of the Lord" shall be welcomed into God's house, and our Gospel speaks of how important it is to move to the borders to encounter great faith. These readings invite us to reflect on how we are moved by God's compassion.
How willing am I to consider the voices of those at the margins?
Does love drive the way I am able to be vulnerable in encountering another?
How do I share God's Good News with those on the borders of my own life?
The above image is from the Public Domain.
Author information Christina Zaker

Director of Field Education and Director of English for Theological Education
M.A.P.S., Loyola Univeristy Chicago; Ecumenical D.Min., Catholic Theological Union

As the Director of Field Education, Christina Zaker brings over 25 years of ministerial experience. She has worked in Campus Ministry at DePaul University, as the Executive Director of Amate House for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and in parish ministry. She has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and at CTU. She is also a frequent speaker and retreat director.

Research and publishing interests focus on theological reflection as well as family spirituality. Her doctoral work focused on the development parable as a lens for theological reflection.  She has written numerous articles that have appeared in the journals Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, New Theology Review, US Catholic Magazine, and the National Catholic Reporter. She has also co-authored a chapter in the book Brimming with God: Reflecting Theologically on Cases in Ministry (Pickwick, 2015).

Christina is a member of the Association for Theological Field Educators and the National Association of Lay Ministers. She is married to Christopher Zaker and they have four children.

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