Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7, Romans 11:13-15, 29-32. Matthew 15:21-28.
The Liturgical Teaching on the Catholicity of God
Today’s First Reading for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A is drawn from Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 and opens the theme of today’s readings to bespeak God as being Catholic. Chapter 56 of Isaiah is the first chapter of the final section of the Book of Isaiah, often referred to as Trito-Isaiah (i.e., the Third Isaiah). The setting of this book is immediately post-exile. After enduring a Babylonian forced exile from 587 to 516 and having been scattered throughout the neighboring nations, Israel’s prophets encouraged the exiles to return home. For Isaiah, the prophecies given to him to announce to this gathering after the Second Exodus not only concerned Israel’s final redemption but also a striking change to Israel’s ecclesiology. While the Torah granted foreigners living within Palestine limited protections (Cf. Exo. 22:20; Deut. 10:19), now, those who were previously excluded from enjoying full rights in the community of God’s chosen people (e.g., Eunuchs and foreigners) are being given a place in the House of God and within His walls, and even their offering and sacrifices will now be accepted at His altar.
The essential thing to note in the Old Covenant is that God has not changed the criteria for membership in His community. On the contrary, the requirements are still the same for foreigners as for the Jews. The text reads, “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.” In other words, the body of the ecclesia has not yet expanded, but what has been extended to all peoples was the mercy of God.
Similarly, we encounter Christ Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 15:21-28, where He appears reticent to heal a Canaanite woman’s daughter of demons who she says are tormenting her. In replying to her plea for help, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus was not contradicting Isaiah because this woman is not asking to become a Jew; she is merely asking for mercy, nor was Jesus offering a commentary on the admission of Gentiles into the Kingdom of God. Jesus is simply telling everyone who the lost people are, and it is not this Canaanite woman – she appears to know exactly where to go for help. Rather, it is the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Nevertheless, because of her faith, Jesus extends His mercy to her and her daughter, who “was healed from that hour.”
Now, after the resurrection, ascension, and descent of the Holy Spirit, something about the ecclesia of God’s People changes because the nature of the ecclesia changes. It shifts from being a mere cooperative covenant to becoming an actual person. In other words, the Old Covenant community could not expand because it was based upon the finite limits of Abraham’s seed, which could only be as numerous as the stars in the sky. That is not the case in the glorified and infinite Body of Christ; God does not have a capacity limit in His Body. Therefore, God has not only come for all and can save all because He has the capacity for all, but according to the Apostle Paul in today’s Second Reading from Romans 11:13-14, 29-32, the motive for God’s extension remains the same, writing, “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.”
The expansion of the community of God’s people into the Body of Christ is articulated in our liturgical theology in two ways. First, whereas in the Old Covenant, there was only one priesthood with one sacrifice to offer, but only in one place, now in the New Covenant, there remains only one priesthood with one sacrifice, but in as many places as there are Catholic priests. Second, because the sacrifice of Christ was for all of humanity, so are the sacraments of His Church for all of humanity, through which many will be saved. Paradoxically, through this articulation, God even meets the human inclination to make him small. We tend to make God small so that He is more easily grasped, controlled, and able to be manipulated. While God desires to demonstrate that His mercy is without capacity or limits, we either do not understand what divine mercy looks like or consider ourselves beyond it. Therefore, God becomes as small as an infant and a piece of bread or a drop of wine just so as not to destroy our sensibilities. In this way, God meets us through His mercy. The idea of God being universal; that is, catholic, but also having standards for admission into His kingdom and commandments that we must follow is difficult for us to grasp until we meet His mercy and grace, which empowers and equips us to obey and to be holy, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the reception of the sacraments. Although God is entirely other than us, His mercy is that He has made Himself like us in every way but sin and has condescended to make Himself accessible to us in every age and every place so that we will never be without Him or a means to be like Him.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.