The authentic picture of Christ
Sunday Homily for August 17, 2008
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (20A)
By Father James Gilhooley
The 17th century Cromwell was painted by a fawning court artist. The flattering portrait didn't do anything for Cromwell. He snarled, "Paint me - warts and all."
What surety do we have that the Evangelists have written the authentic picture of Christ? Perhaps the Gospels are but puff pieces - the type politicians write about themselves.
The proof the Evangelists have given us the real article is found in today's Gospel. Jesus is on the run from the bad guys. He abandons Palestine and flees north into today's Lebanon. Why? He was scared stiff. Does this sound like a puff biography? We are getting a picture of Christ - warts and all.
Jesus planned to hide out in this foreign country. He was an illegal alien with no visa. When the Jewish cops had forgotten about Him, He would furtively return to Palestine like people sneaking into the USA today.
But His fame as a wonder worker had preceded Him. A woman with a sick child had picked Him off. Hysterically she begged for a cure. His cover had been blown. The apostles begged Jesus to get rid of her. They wanted her to fly away on a broom.
As far as the twelve were concerned, she was bad news on several counts. She was a Canaanite and so an arch enemy of the Jews for centuries. Her loud pleas would attract the cops and media and cause all them to spend time in a foreign jail.
In perhaps the toughest language used by Jesus in the Gospels, He tells the woman His mission is to the Jews. It cannot be shared with dogs which is how Jews regarded Canaanites. Are you still thinking that Matthew wrote a Hallmark card puff piece for his readers? This is Christ - warts and all.
The mother was not frightened by the put-down of this wonder man. She proves herself a match for His tongue. She had no love for this Jew, but she believed He could deliver. She had a sick youngster and was willing to swallow insults. She was going for the gold - the cure of her daughter. The 17th century Rembrandt leaves us a moving drawing of the scene.
She proves to be one of the most remarkable people in the Gospels. She digs in, takes Jesus on, and proves herself to be the wordsmith He is and even better. She hits Him right between the eyes with her famous reply, "Lord, even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner's table." But she doesn't want crumbs. She wants the whole loaf - her child's cure.
His irritability and even bad manners indicate Jesus was strung out. His nerves must have been as tight as an overstretched rubber band. The heat was 100 plus degrees. This Canaanite was the first Gentile of record whom He had dealt so aggressively with.
Still, confronted by this courageous woman and, unlike us, He does not hold on to His mad. He cools down. It is an admission of bad manners on His part. He honors the woman by learning from her. (Stephen Mitchell)
Besides, Christ was charmed out of His sandals by her reply.
He knew He had been whipped bad. She had bested Him at the word game of which He was allegedly the master. He may well have broken out into laughter at Himself and given her a high five.
Score Canaanite woman 5 and Christ 0.
Wit is still prized in the Middle East by both Jews and Arabs - the ability to match riddle with riddle, to cap one wise saying with another, to match insult with insult, and to turn raw insult into a compliment. (John McKenzie)
Christ cured her child. Also He salutes her faith. In Matthew's Gospel, she is the only person whose faith He calls great. She was also great for a second reason. She was the only one in any Gospel who had beaten Him in public debate. His conqueror was a Canaanite and a woman to boot in that very machosociety.
Is this not a picture of Christ - warts and all?
Some may be tempted to say, "Well, only Matthew tells this story. The other Gospels are election-time biographies." That willnot wash, for the identical story is told in Mark 7:24-30. Check it out.
Like it or not, the Gospels tell it like it is. The Jesus you see in the Gospels is the one the Evangelists saw - warts and all. Matthew is saying to us today, "This Christ is the genuine article. Take Him or leave Him."
The Gospels tell us more about the real Christ than the Vatican press tells us about the pope.