Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 20, 2017: Meeting the God you cannot understand

The Catholic News Service column, "Speak to Me Lord," offers reflections on the Sunday Scripture readings. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

The Catholic News Service column “Speak to Me Lord” offers reflections on the Sunday Scripture readings. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Aug. 20, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle A Readings

      1) Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

      Psalm 67: 2-3, 5-8

      2) Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

      Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28


By Kevin Perrotta
Catholic News Service

Kevin Perrotta writes for the Catholic News Service Scripture column, "Speak to Me Lord." (CNS photo/courtesy Kevin Perrotta)

Kevin Perrotta writes for the Catholic News Service Scripture column, “Speak to Me Lord.” (CNS photo/courtesy Kevin Perrotta)

God is mysterious, no question about that. Today’s readings provide ample evidence.

“My salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed,” God says (Is 56:1). Looking around at a nation and world filled with the opposite of his justice, we may wonder what that “about to” means. When, Lord, when is your justice going to come?

“God delivered all to disobedience,” Paul writes, “that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32). Paul says that God uses some people’s rejection of him to open the door for others to come to faith.

Rare is the homilist who will probe that paradox! Paul himself ends his exploration with bafflement and awe: “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Rom 11:33).

A God who uses injustice and rejection to accomplish his good purposes lies beyond our comprehension.

God has, however, brought himself into our field of vision. Jesus of Nazareth is his son in human flesh. Jesus is God you can see and hear, God you can relate to as a fellow human being. Jesus is God accessible.

And yet, as today’s Gospel shows, Jesus is mysterious.

Driven by need — her daughter is in torment, probably gravely ill — a non-Jewish woman approaches Jesus. Apparently she has heard that he exercises divine healing powers. Jesus, however, declines to help! She is not on his agenda; he is ministering to fellow Jews.

The woman doesn’t give up. She shouts. She throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She makes a clever response to his refusal.

And then, because of the faith that spurs her flamboyant behavior and quick wit, Jesus agrees to heal her daughter.

There are plenty of mysteries here. Why does Jesus, God-who-has-become-accessible, turn away from the woman? Why doesn’t he instantly show compassion for her?

On the other hand, why, out of all the sick children in Lebanon, is this woman’s daughter the only one to experience miraculous healing?

Let biblical scholars do their best to interpret, the mysteries will remain.

But these texts do not stand before us as mere declarations of God’s inscrutability. They communicate an invitation.

No one can explain God to us or tell us what will happen if we go to Jesus and confront him with our need and pain. But the biblical texts urge us to make our way to him for our own encounter with him.

The Gospel story in particular makes a promise: get heart-to-heart with Jesus, as this woman did, meet the mysterious source of life, and the effects will be life-changing — for you and those close to you.

Reflection Question:

      What does the woman in today’s Gospel show me about how to come to Jesus with my greatest needs?

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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks with the Bible” series (Loyola Press), teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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