Anyone who’s flummoxed by the mystery of the Holy Trinity might get some relief from this Sunday’s readings—especially the gospel passage from Matthew (mt 15:21-28). We get to see the Son and the Spirit converge into a miraculous act of God the Father.
Here we meet a woman who is foreign to Jesus—described as a Canaanite from the region of Tyre and Sidon. Her daughter is possessed by a demon. This woman recognizes Jesus for who he is—the Son of God. How does she come by this revelation? She is possessed by the Holy Spirit! This possession leads to one of the greatest surprises of Jesus’s life.
She asks Jesus to help her daughter.
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he answers. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
Then the surprise:
“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Immediately Jesus recognizes the holiness of this moment, which could only have come through the work of his Father—through the Holy Spirit.
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,” he replies.
This is one of those great moments in the gospels when the Spirit surprises Jesus. Another is when the Roman Centurion—another foreigner to Jesus—asks the Master to heal his servant. The Centurion tells Jesus not to bother coming to his house to do it because the Centurion believes himself unworthy—“just say the word and let my servant be healed.” Jesus marvels at this:
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” he says.
The miraculous message here is that geography doesn’t make us foreigners to God. Evil does. Evil is what got man thrown out of Eden in the first place. Paul learns this lesson through his ministry to his own people. He realizes through revelation of the Holy Spirit that he must minister to all of mankind to bring them back to God’s kingdom.
“I am speaking to you Gentiles,” Paul tells the Romans (rom 11:13-15, 29-32). “Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous. … For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
And listen to what the Holy Spirit inspires Isaiah to say about foreigners in our first reading (is 56:1, 6-7):
“Thus says the LORD: … 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. … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The only foreigner to God is evil. Whenever the Holy Spirit reveals this to people, miracles happen. Let’s pray the next one is our purging of that foreigner from all nations.