St. Joseph Catholic Community, Bound Brook, NJ
20 AUG 2023: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Is 56:1,6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; MT 15: 21-28.
Maybe it’s because I’m a priest, but I’ve had several moments in life where someone gets angry in my presence, and then defends their anger by saying, “Hey, even Jesus got angry once in the temple,” referring to the well-known cleansing incident with a whip and strong language.
But I’ve never come across anyone who’s done something with prejudice, and then referred to today’s Gospel and said, “Hey, even Jesus was prejudiced once, against that Canaanite woman.” We know there is a lot of racism, xenophobia, sexism, etc. still in our world, but either people don’t want to bring Jesus into their own prejudice or admit publicly that Jesus was once prejudiced, too. Who knows?
We can guess from today’s Gospel encounter that the prejudice and the initial flaw in Jesus’ encounter with the woman was judging her at the level of appearances. As the physicist David Bohm once said, “You see what you are thinking and feeling, seldom what you are looking at.” Jesus had a bias against Canaanites, he was in new territory both geographically and interpersonally, and he relied on his old conditioning rather than welcoming the woman for the new person she truly was.
This is a refreshing Gospel because Jesus shows, for one of the few times, he’s truly human, he’s not perfect. And prejudice has many levels, and this is very much on the light side. I was guilty of something similar several years ago, when I found myself reacting to any new person or music or athletes with the same response: “This song reminds me of the band XYZ, he/she reminds me of person ABC, that player plays like EFG used to, and so on.” I was no longing looking at these people, I was no longer looking at a lot of life, I was just reacting and comparing them to others who were nowhere near.
But I woke up, finally. Jesus woke up more quickly, in the space of a few verses. He wakes up to the moment, the actual person in front of him, probably practices some empathy and mindful perception, and he and all of us discover that the woman is humble, persistent, intelligent, faith-filled, emotionally adept and trusting. So instead of the encounter just going to the dogs, it becomes a dramatically healing moment. Not just remotely for the woman’s daughter, but there is a real attunement between Jesus and the woman, as well.
What can you do to stay in the moment, block your prejudices and be open to whoever and whatever is in front of you at any given time? Our God-given gift of awareness can and has to be our best friend at all moments, especially those where we are tempted to rely on labels and abstractions when we’re still living in the very real world.