Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Donna McGartland. Donna is one of the authors in Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious published by New Ways Ministry.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
“All who … 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” (Is 56:6-7, emphasis mine).
Did I really read that line in today’s first liturgical correctly? ALL who hold to the covenant? God’s House of Prayer is for ALL peoples?—not just those who are baptized or who go to church on Sundays, not just those who read the Bible or those who are ordained or confirmed or any number of conditions that others too frequently impose. Isaiah clarifies that ALL who embrace God’s Covenant, including the foreigners who minister lovingly in the name of the Lord, will live on God’s holy mountain.
Today’s gospel reading also challenges those who think otherwise and who set conditions for acceptance. In this reading from Matthew, Jesus appears to be struggling. A Canaanite woman, a pagan, is pleading for healing for her daughter. Jesus claims he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He goes so far as to say to this foreigner, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She, however, claims her rightful place and continues to plead. “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her words touch Jesus deeply and he changes his attitude, responding with amazement, “O woman, great is your faith!” Her daughter is healed.
I often wonder what Jesus was really thinking and experiencing in this story. He essentially called this woman a dog. Did he really believe what he was saying? This isn’t the Jesus I’ve come to know, a God who seeks the lost and frees those who are bound. What was truly happening in this story?
I believe that Jesus was really addressing his disciples when he spoke to the Canaanite woman. It was the disciples, after all, who were insistent that the Canaanite Foreigner was not worthy of his attention. Jesus addressed the woman using the words of the disciples. The woman, on the other hand, addressed Jesus as a true Israelite. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” This woman was truly holding fast to the covenant mentioned in Isaiah. It’s almost as if Jesus was inviting her to own this truth and when she did, he responded by praising her faith. Jesus’ disciples must have been confounded.
It is not hard to make the leap from the Canaanite Foreigner to those of us who identify as LGBTQIA+. I remember being at a Mass where the homilist talked about the evils of being LGBT. I was deeply hurt, not just because he discounted me, but because everyone who was hearing his words were hearing something so contrary to Jesus’ message of love. I prayed, “Son of David, have pity on him.” I knew this wasn’t from God; nor was it our Gospel.
God’s house is a place where all are welcome and invited “to make joyful in [God’s] house of prayer.” As Isaiah proclaims, “My house shall be a House of Prayer for ALL peoples.” Anything contrary to this message is simply not holding to the covenant which Jesus summarized by calling us to “love God with your whole heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
May we all embrace this call to love and so dwell in God’s House of Prayer here on earth.
–Sr. Donna McGartland, August 20, 2023