14 August 2014

'Lord, Help me.' Sunday Reflections, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Christ andthe Canaanite Woman, c.1500, Juan de Flandes
Palacio Real, Madrid [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The video above was posted on 22 July. There seemed to be some hope for the Christians of Iraq. But thousands have since fled from their homes because of threats to their lives by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS hope to control a much wider area, including the region known in Biblical times as Canaan, which is further south.

The anguish and prayer of the Canaanite woman in today's gospel reflects the anguish and prayer of the Christians of northern Iraq and Syria today, whose ancestors were already there in the time that the incident in today's gospel happened and who became Christians in the time of the Apostles. Lord, help me. Lord, help us.

Pope Francis expresses his anguish about the situation in a letter to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. The Pope writes: 

It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony. Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.

In the Gospel Jesus seems to insult the Canaanite woman as a foreigner by comparing her people to 'dogs'. She gives back as much as she gets and reminds Jesus that even the dogs get fed from the scraps. Jesus marvels at her faith and responds to it: Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.

If we were to use the analogy of Jesus in the context of what is happening in northern Iraq and Syria perhaps the vast majority of Catholics, who belong to the Latin or Roman Rite, might be surprised to find the Catholics of Iraq and Syria, most of whom belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church, to be the guests of honour at the table, as they trace their Catholic faith to the very origins of the Church.

But many of them no longer have even a table

Pope Francis further says in his letter to Ban Ki-moon: 

The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church (above) has also written Ban Ki-moon:

We, as the Christian community, appeal to the United Nations to put political pressure on the international community, the Security Council cannot stand by and be a witness to the ongoing atrocities committed against Christians. We were happy when your statement acknowledged that the crimes committed against Christians constitute crimes against humanity, we therefore urge  you to put pressure on all to respect human rights.Excellency, we Christians are peace-loving citizens  caught up in the middle of a clash between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as attacks from Military groups. Our community has suffered a disproportionate share of hardship caused by sectarian conflicts, terrorist attacks, migration and now even ethnic cleansing: the militants want to wipe out the Christian community. [Emphasis added.]

Let us make our own, on behalf of the suffering Christian community- and on behalf of their neighbours who are suffering with them - the prayer of the Canaanite woman that touched the heart of Jesus: Lord, help me.

Ruins of St elijah's Monastery, south of Mosul, Iraq, founded AD 595 [Wikipedia]

The above, by Spanish Renaissance composer Francisco Guerrero (1528 - 1599) and sung by Música Ficta, tells the story of today's gospel, in Latin and in a shortened version.

Clamabat autem mulier cananea
ad Dominum Iesum dicens:
Domine Iesu Christe,
fili David, adiuva me.
Filia mea male a daemonio vexatur.
Respondens ei, Dominus dixit:
Non sum missus nisi ad oves,
quae perierunt domus Israel.

A Canaanite woman  started shouting to the Lord Jesus, 'Lord, Son of David, help me. My daughter is tormented by a demon.' The Lord answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'  

At illa venit, et adoravit eum,
dicens: Domine, adiuva me.
Respondens Iesus, ait illi:
Mulier, magna est fides tua,
fiat tibi sicut vis.

But she came and adored him, saying, 'Lord, help me.' Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' 

Christ and the Canaanite Woman, 1617, Pieter Pietersz Lastman
Riksmuseum, Amsterdam [Web Gallery of Art]

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