20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – August 16, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
(1) “Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon?”
Beginning last week and today and the next two weeks, the Church focuses our attention on the issue of faith. Christ comes and announces the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is breaking into our world, that puts us in right-relationship with God. We are finally given what our hearts have been longing for but not been able to name. And how do we gain access to this? Faith. Jesus travels around teaching and healing, doing incredible signs, and what does he keep seeking? Faith. And faith isn’t believing a bunch of stuff to be true that doesn’t make sense, no. That’s not faith. Faith is the most reasonable thing there is, it is the fulfillment of reason.
I was talking to a person once about this issue of faith, about God. And they just didn’t believe any of it. And finally he asked me, “Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon?” (Waters, The Human Person: A State of Emergency) In other words, he was cleverly trying to say, “Why do you believe this? Why do you believe in God? What do you have ‘faith’? With all that we’ve discovered, all the progress we have made, why do you need this? Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon? Don’t you realize that we don’t need ‘God’?”
In all the advances we have made in technology and science and everything, we have slowly eliminated our need to think that we need anyone else—and certainly we don’t need God. “Don’t you realize man has been to the moon?” We are self-sufficient. Everything we need we can provide for ourselves. We don’t need “God” anymore.
(2) Everything’s amazing, and no one is happy.
But what made us want to go to the moon in the first place? Why do we sit outside and just look at the stars? Why do we do all of this in the first place? Why did people want to go to the moon? Why do people want to climb mountains?
There is a part of us that just pushes us, it pushes us out. We want more than we can give ourselves, more than we can provide for ourselves. That’s what religion—all religions throughout history—have been: this going out, searching, pleading, begging for access to the “divine” (whatever that means). Because no matter how much we advance as a society, species, as whatever, we are not “happier” or more fulfilled!
I mean, have you ever seen someone freak out when their phone is slow, or it is taking ten second to download instead of five? Give it a second! “I was on an airplane, and there was high-speed internet on the airplane. It was brand new, [first time ever]. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go, ‘Open up your laptop, [pull out your phones], you [have WiFi]. And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips. It’s amazing! I’m in an airplane! And then it breaks down, and they apologize, ‘The internet is not working.’ And the guy next to me goes, ‘This is [ridiculous]!’ Like, how quickly the world owed him something that he knew existed only ten second ago!” Or even flying itself! When people get back from a flight they tell you all the things that went wrong, all the inconveniences they had. And I often want to say, “Oh, what happened? Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you take part in the miracle of human flight? You’re flying!” Everything’s amazing, and no one is happy. (c.f., Louis C.K.)
This is what has pushed us toward the moon! We are constantly striving toward more than we have. Because even when everything is amazing, people still aren’t happy.
(3) Faith: The Result of an Event
But this is precisely where “faith” enters in. Faith is NOT—IT IS NOT—giving up and saying, “Well, since I can’t make myself happy, I sure hope that God exists!” No. When we reach the limits of our strength and ability, when we run-up against the limit of ourselves, we have two options: 1) just fall into nihilism and depression; or 2) admit your own humanity and that feeling inside of yourself that expects something, that needs something, that is begging for something, where we are constantly waiting for something, for Someone!
There’s that great scene in the Incredibles where Mr. Incredible gets out of the car and turns to see this little kid on his trike, and he asks him, “Well what are you waiting for?” And the kid says, “I don’t know! Something amazing!! I guess.”
We’re waiting for something amazing. We’re waiting for something to happen. We’re waiting for an event. This is what Scripture recounts for us: us begging for God to do something, to “show his face,” to “have mercy” on us and do something amazing. Scripture shares the event of God coming to us.
This woman in our Gospel today has been waiting her entire life. She has been waiting for something amazing, waiting for God to show mercy. And then tragedy strikes, and her daughter is being tormented by a demon. Imagine waking up every morning and watching your child struggle and suffer with something, and there is nothing you can do about it—many of you have had to do this, some of you are still doing it. You do it with your family members, friends, your job, the country—we start to run up against the wall of our own limitation. This woman, in her own existence and experience, is reaching the end of her strength. And what do people do—even if they aren’t real “religious”—what do people do in these situations? They either fall into nihilism and depression; life is over. Or, they start to pray, to beg “God” for help, to admit that there is now something outside of their control. Regardless of their religion, they start reaching out in expectation and need, she starts to beg. She’s waiting for something amazing, waiting for mercy.
(4) Faith: The Result of the Event of an Encounter
And what happens? What event does she come across? She hears of this guy, a truly exceptional man. And she hears that he has been performing miracles and healing and casting out demons—just what she has been asking for, just like she has been begging for. And so when he comes, she calls out. She doesn’t hold back! Everyone is looking at her, telling her to quit making a scene, to leave the poor guy alone. This guy’s disciples are clearly trying to get her to calm down. But she calls out, ““Have pity on me, Lord!…Lord, help me!” Even when Jesus himself tries to dissuade her, she is persistent—she cannot silence the cry within herself, the begging and expectancy within herself.
And how does Jesus describe this? Does he say, “Woman, you are really annoying! Fine! Your daughter is healed. Now please shut up.” No. Not at all. He says, “O woman, great is your faith!” Great is her faith. How is this “faith”? It’s faith because faith is what happens when you encounter an exceptional presence, and you recognize this Presence as containing the “answer” you’ve been looking for, and you adhere to this Presence (beg for mercy, for help).
This woman has “great faith” because she had the sincerity to recognize, the simplicity to accept, and the affection to cling and latch on to this Presence. In Jesus Christ, she recognized the Presence of the one she had been calling out to for so long. She accepted that in Jesus Christ was Presence of the divine. And because she knew her need was so great, she clung and latched on to this Presence and wouldn’t be dissuaded.
(5) Kyrie Eleison
Faith is a problem when we forget that we’re human, and that as humans everything can be amazing, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy. We are able to give and provide so much for ourselves, but when we’re honest with ourselves, we cannot dismiss this experience within ourselves of needing more, of expecting more. Faith isn’t hoping that there’s something or someone out there that can make things better. Faith is what happens when something amazing happens, when Jesus Christ comes.
For some of us, we can point to that event, we can point to the moment in our own life, and many other moments, when we have encountered Christ. Our faith is strengthened by recalling this event. But for some, perhaps you’re still waiting, expecting something. And that’s why every Mass begins with the words of this woman in our Gospel today: “Have pity on me, Lord! Lord, have mercy! Kyrie Eleison!” We begin every Mass with those words, and in every Mass the Lord renews his covenant with us, renews his promise of mercy, and holds nothing back—he gives us his body and blood.