Are We Worthy of God’s Mercy?

by Susanna Mak
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Matthew 15:21-28

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” (, 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.