God’s Silence and Persistent Faith: Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the 20th Week in Ordinary Time – 20 August 2017

Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28

Another exciting week in world news, huh?

After a week of watching people trying to talk about everything that’s happened,
in Charlottesville, in Barcelona, in Kissimmee, Florida,
one thing is clear:
the problem is incredibly complicated, multifaceted, and confusing
but nonetheless
there is a problem, a widespread problem, and something has to change
because this must stop.

But who is to blame?
Who’s to blame for the breakdown, the dysfunction, the violence?

Well, I am, obviously.

Every time I’ve disregarded someone because of his opinion.
Every time I’ve unfriended someone because I disagree with them.
Every time I’ve rejected someone because of where they’re from.
Every time I’ve looked at someone only in terms of what they can or can’t offer me.

We know from the book of Genesis and from every religious ed class
that we are made in the image and likeness of God, who is a community of persons.
Therefore, we are made in the image and likeness of a community.
Thus, at our core…at the deepest level, we are built for communion with God and with each other.
This is why it feels good to sit around a campfire with our best friends;
this is why it feels so right to watch the sunset with the one we love;
this is why nothing beats an impromptu, agenda-free dinner out with our spouse and kids.
We are made for each other!

That’s also why it’s so painful to watch the result of peoples’ hatred
plastered all over everything.
And what does it do to a society
to hear about death, hatred, discord
every time the radio is on, every time the TV is on, every time we log on to social media?

Think about it –
for many of us, the last thing we do at night is scroll through a newsfeed.
The first thing we do in the morning is scroll through a newsfeed.
Usually that newsfeed contains more negativity than positivity,
more evidence of Original Sin alive and well in the world
than anything encouraging.

Social media – the very thing that was meant to bring the world together
and, of course, on so many levels it has done just that in many beautiful ways –
But what was meant to bring the world together,
and be an avenue for the exchange of ideas and cultures
has become, unexpectedly, something very bad.

If I don’t like you, I can simply disregard you.
I can block you, unfriend you, hide your posts.
If I don’t want to hear what the other side has to say,
I don’t have to.
We’ve slowly begun barricading ourselves in
tiny, one-sided “ghettos of thought”
wherein the other people in the world aren’t people at all,
but numbers
on a friend list.

There’s been a lot of fighting lately,
a lot of words being spoken, or shouted.
But we live in a world where
somehow I am entitled to have my voice be heard,
even it means I must silence yours to do it.

We are made in the image and likeness of God,
we are hardwired for communion with each other,
for togetherness with our neighbor and with our God.
So every time we do the inhumane thing of blocking out
another person just because of their
ideas, way of life, race, economic status, religion, or preference for Chicago baseball,
we diminish what’s human inside of us by diminishing what’s human inside of them.

When we’ve diminished what’s human inside of ourselves and in those around us,
what’s left?

If we were living in biblical times,
the Gospel this morning presents an encounter
that would make our skin crawl.
Jesus, a Jew, born to Jews and raised by Jews,
associates himself with a Canaanite woman.

“To biblically attuned ears
the simple word “Canaan” immediately evokes
everything contrary to Jewish faith and traditions,
everything therefore that Judaism is supposed
to battle and eradicate.” (Merikakis, 426)

Over and over, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel,
we see accounts of the Pharisees, the religious elite,
rejecting people from Temple worship and community life
because they don’t measure up to the standard.
Even the disciples told Jesus to “send her away.”

And everything that Jesus-the-human knew,
religiously and culturally,
would have been telling him to listen to the disciples
and ignore her plea for mercy and help.

The woman is coming from the land of Tyre and Sidon,
a district north of Galilee
“that symbolizes [to the Jews] utter God-forsakenness,
and she comes out of it screaming for mercy at the top of her lungs.” (Merikakis, 427)

“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

How does Jesus respond?

“But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.”

In the face of her cries for mercy,
God is silent.

In the face of torch lit rallies,
in the face of vans driving into crowds,
in the face of shootings and crime and corruption of every kind,
God is silent.

I’m quoting now from a commentary on this passage:
“Along with the woman, we can simply listen to the silence,
certainly with impatience,
yet not without reverence.
Silence has an authority all its own,
especially when divinely appointed,
and we must allow it its rights
even when it frustrates our expectations…
God’s self-manifestation in emptiness can go on indefinitely,
until God chooses to create something within it better than emptiness;
but we must be convinced that our many words
are never better than God’s silent emptiness in us.
We must not, panic-stricken, begin at once to fill it with our own noise.
God’s silence in us is one of the choicest works of his grace…
Thus does the silence of God reduce us in our own eyes.” (Merikakis, 431)

Sometimes, when we knew what we’d done,
our parents didn’t have to yell,
or speak any word at all.
The silence of their glance was all it took.

But then with the Canaanite woman,
and so, we believe, with us:
God breaks his silence.
He breaks his own silence for one purpose:
to create, to heal, to save.

He met that woman coming out of her own God-forsakenness,
he himself leaving behind his beloved Galilee
to go toward that every land of God-forsakenness,
so that it might not be so God-forsaken anymore.

Brothers and sisters, this morning we are being called
not just by God and the Church in the providence of these readings,
but by every person – every man, woman, child –
who is hated, persecuted, and who lives on the margins
simply because our own God-forsakenness pushed them there;
we are being called to come out of our land of God-forsakenness,
and to meet Jesus in the places where he is already looking for us.

If we are somehow fooled that our job as Christians in this world today
is anything other than to be the healthy cells in a cancerous body;
if we think our job as Christians in this world today
is precisely anything other than to build community,
and to start with the people who live next to us,
and work next to us,
and go about their beautiful lives next to us,
then we are sorely mistaken
and shame on us.

He is our light! He is our way, our truth, and life!
He is the escape route from the lands of God-forsakenness
which we – all of us – love to explore.

Jesus Christ, the savior of nations,
in whom there is no Jew or Greek,
woman or man,
black or white,
democrat or republican,
straight or gay,

is calling us today to leave Tyre and Sidon,
and the land of sin
and to recognize him in the breaking of the bread
as the bond of unity and the source of charity
in and for his people.

Period.

This place is his house, his holy mountain,
and it shall be a house of prayer for all people.

Even in the midst of silence,
in the face of tragedy and dismaying things,
we will call on the name of the Lord.

And like the woman from Canaan whose persistence
broke the silence of God,
so too will our loud cries for justice, mercy,
and, above all, peace
bring down up us and the indeed the whole world,
the favor of God.

“O woman,” says Jesus,
“great is your faith.
Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Amen. So may it be with us.

Peace be with you.
 

 

 

 

 

 

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