The gospel of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time presents us with another miracle, the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman. The text offers several options for the preacher. We could preach about the healing power of Jesus. We also could preach about the power of intercession. As some other characters in the New Testament, the woman is asking for healing for someone else—like the Roman centurion who asks for healing for his servant. That could have inspired a homily on our role to be intercessors for others.
Another possibility is to preach about perseverance. Jesus denies the woman’s request at first, but she insists until she gets what she wants.
Yet another option is to realize that the Canaanite woman is a foreigner and Jesus finds himself in foreign territory—in the land of Tyre and Sidon. The first reading this Sunday and the Psalm seem to point in that direction. The message of the gospel is universal, and we are to become welcoming, diverse communities. It would be a worthy topic, but we hear preaching about this so many times.
More than a healing, our power of intercession, perseverance, or preaching about diversity, in this text I see something that I find very powerful, and especially applicable to our own lives. I see a turning point.
Jesus is determined not to help the woman because he thinks the scope of his mission is to the House of Israel. There is no way to sweeten his words, to stretch the text to make Jesus mean something else: he is not planning to help the woman because she is not a Jew. The direction of his ministry, at this point, is clear. But through the dialogue with the woman, and seeing her faith — a faith that he did not see among the Pharisees, the Scribes, or his own disciples — Jesus reaches a turning point. He reconfigures his “strategy” and realizes the universality of the scope of his mission. After this turning point, there is no way back. Even the Son of God took a turning point, changed, reconsidered his mission.
We, too, experience turning points. We can look at our past and see moments that were turning points. Sometimes the turning points were caused by negative experiences: the death of a loved one, a serious diagnosis, losing a job, an accident…We can also see positive experiences provoking a turning point: like meeting a person with whom we fall in love, a new friend, or in my case, for instance, being invited to consider priesthood. Perhaps a conversation with someone suddenly brings about an epiphany (—which is what I think happened with Jesus.) Turning points: we comfortably go in one direction, but then suddenly everything changes and we take an existential turn.
It is about looking at our past and recognizing the presence of God in those turning points. How we gathered the necessary courage and took a leap into unexpected territory, coming out more like the person God wants us to be. But it is not about the turning points of the past only, but also about those waiting for us in the future. We have to be ready for them, reading the signs that God sends abundantly our way; paying attention to the people God places on our way; reading events and situations, opening ourselves to give to those events and situations with the depth with which Jesus allowed himself to be changed by the Canaanite woman.
Sometimes, turning points have to be intentionally provoked, like the crises we discussed last week. This is what, in my opinion, what Jesus does in next Sunday’s gospel.