Are We Worthy of God’s Mercy?

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the LORD: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed. The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants— all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

Matthew 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

Bryan Stevenson, lawyer, advocate for the poor, incarcerated, and the condemned, took his call as a social justice activist seriously when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama in 1989. Throughout Stevenson’s career, he has been greatly affected by the injustice he witnessed in the judicial system; he lives by the conviction that there is no justice without mercy. He firmly believes that no one should be defined by their worst action. In Stevenson’s TedTalk, he reminds the audience that “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” (ted.com, 2012). Indeed, we are more than our mistakes or bad decisions because our dignity is not rooted in human judgement but in God’s love and mercy. When we approach God, we come “as is”: with all of our burdens, doubts, faults, and weaknesses. We need not fear or feel ashamed, for God’s mercy is infinitely wider and deeper than our strongest and most stubborn resistance!

In this week’s gospel, a brave Canaanite mother dares to approach a Jew, Jesus, asking for mercy, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon” (Mt 15:22). This woman, knowing that she is an outsider and an unwelcome stranger among the crowd, refuses to give in to human judgement because her love for her daughter outweighs all her fears. Living in a highly stratified and restrictive society, her action is deemed outrageous. Even Jesus’ disciples urge their master to “send her away” (Mt. 15:23). Not only does she refuse to back down after Jesus’ declaration that he is “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, but she also dares to enter into a debate with Jesus. When Jesus challenges the woman, “It is not fair to throw the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”, she quickly retorts, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:26-27). There, she has passed the test! Her petition is granted, not because of her witty response, but because of her “great” faith (Mt 15:28). She humbly approaches Jesus “as is”, an outsider shouldering the burden of history, proclaiming the name, “Son of David”, graciously receiving whatever “crumbs” that fall from the master’s table.

Great is this woman’s faith and even greater is God’s mercy; freely given to those who ask. St. Paul explains that though the faith is given first to the “Chosen” race, the Israelites,
“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Rm 11:29-32).
God’s gifts and calling are “irrevocable” and as St. Paul reaffirms, it is for everyone who believes. There’s no “insiders” versus “outsiders”; “them” versus “us”, God’s mercy is bountiful and boundless. God’s mercy is sufficient to welcome back the Israelites into the fold and change the hearts of the disobedient.

This week’s readings remind us that God’s mercy is infinitely wider and deeper than our human comprehension. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah tells the Israelites that if they “maintain justice, and do what is right”, God’s salvation will come to them (Is 56:1). Jesus has broken many religious and social conventions to grant the petition of the Canaanite woman. Why does he do that and in front of a crowd of skeptics? First of all, it is, indeed, right and just, to show mercy. The skeptics? Perhaps their hearts, filled with pride and self-righteousness, are in dire need of love and conversion. So, Jesus shocks their great skepticism with an even greater measure of love! In this single stroke of mercy, Jesus has not only healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, but has also healed the hearts of those witnessing the event.

So, are we all worthy of God’s mercy? The short answer is, “yes”! We are so loved by God that He doesn’t even spare His only Son to save us. Another way to approach this is to ask a different question. Perhaps the question is not whether we are worthy, but whether we believe! Therefore, let us come to Christ, without pride or doubt, “as is”, and graciously accept crumbs of mercy fallen from our Master’s table.

Posted: August 16, 2020

Susanna Mak

 
Susanna深信,信仰需要在日常生活中顯露出來,尤其是當與別人相處時,需要分擔對方所面對的困境、抉擇和挑戰。她有着很多不同的身份:女兒、姐姐、朋友、姨姨、妻子、老師、校牧、終身學習者和偶爾替《生命恩泉》寫作的作者。在每一個身份當中, 她努力為天主的愛和希望作見証。 她在多倫多擔任高中教師近二十年,擁有英語、學生讀寫能力、青年領袖活動、校牧組等經驗。 她是多倫多大學商業和英語學士,教育學士,亞省Athabasca大學綜合研究碩士,以及擁有多倫多大學Regis學院神學研究碩士證書。她對於成為《生命恩泉》寫作團隊的一份子, 深感榮幸。 Susanna has a deep conviction that faith needs to be manifested in daily life, particularly, in one’s encounters with others as well as amidst dilemmas, choices, and challenges. She strives to be a living sign of God’s love and hope as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, teacher, chaplain, life-long learner, and occasional writer for FLL. She has been a high school teacher in Toronto for almost 20 years, with experiences in English and literacy, youth leadership initiatives, the Chaplaincy Team, to mention a few. She has a B. Comm, B.A. in English, and a B. Education from University of Toronto, an M.A. in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, and a Graduate Certificate of Theological Studies from Regis College, U of T. She is humbled by the opportunity to be part of the FLL Writing Team.


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