20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 16, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Over the centuries our country has built a phenomenal engine
of industry and commerce, both locally and internationally.
And we’ve reaped the rewards of this engine:
we are the strongest most affluent and prosperous nation on earth.
Even in the midst of the pandemic and the shutdown,
we see the evidence of this prosperity.
But we have also reaped the bitter fruit of this engine:
affluence and prosperity have created a culture often dominated by
materialism and corruption.
Our seemingly endless ability to make and develop and innovate,
to not only meet our basic needs but to increasingly gratify our every desire
has led many in our society to live without boundaries or rules,
seeking immediate and increasing gratification.
This connection with prosperity and corruption is not unique in history
—it is more the rule than the exception.
In fact, although you probably didn’t recognize it, we find it in today’s Gospel.
In the first century A.D., the cities of Tyre and Sidon were very much like we are today.
Historically both had been, for centuries, strong port cities.
And as was often the case with many port cities in the ancient world,
they became centers of commerce, which led to great prosperity.
But, as was also common with port cities,
this great prosperity led to great moral corruption.
But there was one way that they were distinctly different from our nation:
Tyre and Sidon were Canaanite cities and were not founded
–as we were—
on the fundamental principles of the Mosaic law
and God’s revelation to the Israel fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
They had no true faith to inform and guide their lives,
to elevate their desires and hopes from the mundane to the sublime,
as we do, in Christianity.
And so the corruption had much more fertile soil to flourish in.
Sadly, though, as we have seen, prosperity and moral temptation
have led our society to more and more reject its foundational faith
in the God of Moses—in Jesus Christ.
So the distinctions between us are waning, as the similarities grow stronger.
All this forms the background for the story of today’s Gospel
—the background of “Canaanite woman of that district” of Tyre and Sidon
–and of Jesus’ interaction with her.
But it also forms the backdrop for the woman’s problem,
which is not herself, but her daughter.
This Canaanite daughter is not present in the story,
but she is the reason for this encounter:
the woman comes to Jesus because
her daughter is “tormented by a demon.”
“Tormented by a demon.”
What kind of demon is she talking about?
Some scripture scholars argue that when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
talk about “demons,” it’s really just their non-scientific way of explaining
actual medical or psychological phenomena like
epilepsy or Tourette’s Syndrome, or perhaps schizophrenia.
And that may be correct, sometimes.
But probably not most of the time, maybe never.
Maybe, probably, when the word of God says “demons” it means just that:
“demons”—the fallen angels the Bible also called devils,
who are led by Satan, Lucifer himself.
We don’t talk much today about demons.
Unfortunately, they are still us.
And one of their primary tasks is to confuse us,
especially to confuse good and evil,
to take good things and make them look bad, and vice versa.
This is how it’s been from the “the beginning” in the Garden of Eden,
when Satan confused Adam and Eve
convincing them that even in the fantastic prosperity of the Garden
they didn’t already have enough good things
—they needed one thing more: to be like God.
And demons have continued, all these millennia,
to confuse man about the good things of the world.
Today they work to corrupt our understanding
of the prosperity and accomplishments of this present age,
tricking us into thinking that with all we have, we can never have enough.
That if two cars in the garage are good, four must be better.
That if one wife is good, two or three wives must be better
—even if the second or third isn’t legally or morally a wife.
And tricking us into thinking that what is good is bad, and what is bad is good.
For instance, almost all cultures used to think that it was a great thing to work hard to make money to support a family with lots of children.
Nowadays, you work hard because having lots of money is good,
but having lots of kids is a bad.
Even so, “the devil doesn’t make us do it” every time we do something bad.
Let’s talk about the other way of thinking of “demons,”
kind of like those scholars who say the biblical demons
are unexplained diseases.
Sometimes we use the word “demon” to describe
sort of inclinations inside of us to do evil
–we speak of our “better angels” and our “demons.”
So think of all those demons that thrive in prosperity.
Particularly the demons we call vices.
Those thoughts and inclinations that habitually surface and nag at us to do what we know we shouldn’t.
The inclination to have more of the good things of this world than is good for us
—the vices of envy and avarice.
To take a good thing, like sexuality or strong convictions, and pervert it or abuse it
—the vices of lust and anger.
To seek to achieve great deeds not because they are good in themselves,
or bring about some other good,
but because we think it’s good for people to praise us—pride.
To seek to accumulate enough wealth
not so we can provide for the needs of our family,
but so we can relax and goof off—sloth.
Whether we’re talking about these moral demons,
or the actual spiritual demons of hell,
demons flourish in times like ours,
taking the good things we have—prosperity
—and corrupting them into decadence.
Those same demons were at work in the region of Tyre and Sidon 2000 years
And so, the daughter, who lived in a world of prosperity and decadence,
was “tormented by demons.”
Raised in a culture so open to corruption and temptation,
she was the target of the demons, moral and spiritual.
And they were ruining her life—turning all that was good into misery.
And so her mother comes to Jesus, begging:
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”
What is the solution?
How can we live in this age of prosperity without succumbing to decadence?
How can we fight the temptations and confusion of demons?
There is only one answer: faith in Jesus Christ.
When this woman
–who comes from a people who do not believe in the true God of Israel—
comes to Jesus, He seems to first ignore her and then dismiss her.
And He tells us exactly why: He says He,
” was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
In other words, He was sent to those who fully accept—to those who have faith
—in the true God.
Jesus goes so far as to refer to those who have no faith as “dogs”
—using strong language not to demean but to emphasize His point:
the difference between those who have faith and those who don’t
is as radical as the difference between children and dogs.
The woman might have been offended, but she wasn’t.
She neither leaves, nor disputes what He says.
Instead, she proclaims her faith in Israel’s God
—displaying the purest form of faith, a faith rooted in humility:
“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Some say that Jesus is cruel to this poor woman.
But all He has done is elicit from her an expression of faith.
Think about that: He does this all the time.
To Martha at Lazarus tomb: “do you believe?”
To Peter as He calls him to walk on the water to Him: “Oh you of little faith.”
Or even to his own Blessed mother at the Wedding Feast at Cana, asking her:
“what is it to you and to me?”
Jesus loved Martha and Peter and, more than anyone, His Mother.
And He loved this Canaanite woman.
And in His love He asked them to accept the only solution to all sin and suffering,
the antidote to all demons: faith in Him.
And when she humbly professes this faith,
Jesus immediately drops the pretense and turns to her in love and says:
“O woman, great is your faith!”
And the Gospel tells us, “…And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”
Ours is a great and prosperous nation, but its culture is all too corrupted by sin,
especially as it increasingly rejects its foundational faith in Christ.
So as we raise our children to both
love our country and rightly participate in her prosperity,
we must also be aware of the temptations and the demons that thrive in this prosperity.
And we must have faith in Jesus Christ, and share that faith with our children,
Because only Christ can protect us against the demons
that want to lead us from good to evil, from prosperity to decadence.