Sunday Connection

  
Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.


Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sunday, August 16, 2020

This Sunday’s Readings

First Reading
Isaiah 56:1,6-7
The Lord reveals his salvation to all.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 67:2-3,5-6,8
All the nations will praise God.

Second Reading
Romans 11:13-15,29-32
God’s favor to Israel is irrevocable.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we move ahead in our reading of Matthew’s Gospel. Last week we read about Jesus walking on the water and the disciples’ confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God. If we were reading Matthew’s entire Gospel, we would have read about Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees about Jewish purity laws. Jesus argues that it is not what goes into us that makes us unclean; he is referring to the strict Jewish dietary rules. Instead our words and our actions—what comes out of us—make us unclean because they emerge from a heart that is unclean.

Knowing about Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees helps us to understand today’s Gospel. In fact the story heightens the surprise and shock we feel as we hear Jesus’ exchange with the Canaanite woman. The woman, who is not Jewish, approaches Jesus, requesting that he heal her demon-possessed daughter. At first Jesus ignores her; he says nothing. The disciples ask Jesus to send her away, and Jesus agrees, remarking that he was sent to minister to the Jews alone.

The woman persists, paying homage to Jesus, and yet Jesus denies her request again. He even insults her, using a Jewish word of derision for Gentiles, “dog.” But the woman cleverly turns Jesus’ insult into an affirmation of faith. Only then does Jesus grant her request and heal her daughter.

Jesus’ unresponsiveness to this woman may strike us as uncharacteristic or shocking. Yet in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry is directed primarily to the people of Israel. At only a very few points, such as the one found in today’s Gospel, do we find Jesus anticipating the later Christian ministry to the rest of the world.

Behind Matthew’s text we can hear this early Christian community’s struggle to understand how God’s selection of Israel is consistent with two events: Israel’s rejection of Jesus and the Gentiles’ acceptance of Jesus. Just as Jesus was surprised by the faith expressed by the Canaanite woman, so too the first Christians were surprised that the Gentiles would receive the salvation God offered through Christ. In today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, we hear the apostle Paul considering this same concern.

The faith that the Canaanite woman expresses is an affirmation of and confidence in God’s abundant mercy. Yes, salvation comes through Israel, but it overflows for the benefit of all.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.


Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

Younger children sometimes exclude other children from group activities. Help children understand that our faith calls us to treat all people with love and care and to exclude no one.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Put children’s chairs in a circle. Set aside two or three chairs so that that there are fewer chairs than there are children. As children enter, say: Welcome! Take a seat in the circle. When all the chairs are taken, say: Some children have been left out of the circle! How can we welcome them in? Have children get the additional chairs you’ve set aside. Ask children to widen the circle to allow you and the “left out” children to sit down. Say: As Christians, we do not leave anyone out. We can always widen our circle and welcome new people, even people who are different from us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about not excluding anyone. Let’s listen to what happens when a woman asks Jesus for help.
  2. Read aloud today’s Gospel, Matthew 15:21–28.
  3. Ask: At first, did Jesus says yes or no to the Canaanite woman’s request for help? (He said no.) Say: But the woman persisted. She was confident that Jesus could heal her daughter. She had faith in him. When Jesus saw her faith, he healed her daughter.
  4. Say: Jesus has come to save all people. No one who has faith in Jesus is left out.
  5. Say: As disciples of Jesus, we are called not to exclude, or leave anyone out. Being left out can hurt, and we don’t want others to hurt. We are kind and friendly to everyone.
  6. Pray together for Jesus’ help to remember to welcome all people. Close by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.


Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

Like the Canaanite woman, young people can be quite persistent in presenting their requests and needs to the adults in their lives. Our prayers to God should be as persistent, rooted in the confidence that God is able to provide all that we need.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Ask the group: Recall a time when a request of yours was rejected. (Perhaps you asked to go to the movies or watch a TV show after your bedtime.) What did it feel like to have your request rejected? What was your response to this rejection? (Accept all reasonable answers.)

  2. Say: In today’s Gospel we hear a very surprising story in which Jesus at first rejects the pleas of a woman who asks him to heal her daughter. Let’s listen carefully to this Gospel to see what we can learn about how we should approach God with our needs.

  3. Invite one or more volunteers to read aloud today’s Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28.

  4. Ask: How many times does Jesus reject the woman’s request? (at least three times) What was Jesus’ first response to the woman’s requests? (He ignores her.) What was Jesus’ second response? (He says that he was sent only to the people of Israel.) What was Jesus’ third response? (He appears to insult her when he implies that only the Israelites are God’s children.) How does the woman respond to each of these rejections? (She continues to persist; she cleverly turns around Jesus’ insult; she remains confident that Jesus can and will help her.)

  5. Say: In this story we can find a lesson about our prayer. The woman in the story is successful in making her request to Jesus because she remains confident that Jesus can and will help her. It is her faith that Jesus rewards by healing her daughter. When we bring our needs to God in prayer, we should do so with confidence and faith, like the Canaanite woman.

  6. Conclude with prayers of petition, asking the group to name the things that they most need from God. Present these prayers with confidence in God’s abundant mercy.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.


Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Young people at this age are very sensitive to issues of inclusiveness—they want to belong and not be left out. This Sunday's Gospel presents us with a woman who recognized Jesus as Lord and did not want to be left out because she was not Jewish.

Materials Needed

  • A small gift, such as a candy bar, for each young person in the class

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. After greeting the young people, approach one, calling his or her name. Say: You are chosen! Give him or her the gift.

  2. Repeat this with two or three more young people.

  3. Ask: What does it feel like to know that some of the young people in this group are chosen ones? (Accept all reasonable answers.)

  4. Say: The Jewish people are considered to be God’s Chosen People. This doesn’t mean, however, that they were chosen to the exclusion of everyone else. Rather, it means that they were chosen to bring God’s Good News to all people.

  5. Have a volunteer read aloud this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28.

  6. Ask: What does Jesus mean when he says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”? (Jesus was sent to minister to those Chosen People who had lost their way.)

  7. Ask: What does the woman mean when she says: “[E]ven the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters”? (Nobody should be left out or ignored.)

  8. Ask: Why does it matter to us that Jesus healed the woman’s daughter? (It shows that Jesus has come to save all people.)

  9. Hand out the gifts to all the young people. Say: Christ came for all of us. We are all God’s chosen ones.

  10. Conclude by praying the psalm for this Sunday, Psalm 67.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 15:21-28
Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman because of her great faith.


Family Connection

Even when spurned by Jesus, the faith of the Canaanite woman makes her bold enough to argue and ask again for what she needs. Her persistence and great confidence that Jesus could heal her daughter reminds us of the confidence with which our children bring to us their own needs. In their faith and trust we can find modern examples of how we might approach God in prayer.

As a family recall some times when a request for something was presented by one family member to another with confidence and persistence. If the request was denied, talk about why that was so. If the request was eventually granted, talk about what led to the change of heart. Then read together today’s Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28. Was anyone surprised by Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman? Why or why not? What makes Jesus change his mind and heal the woman’s daughter? When we pray, God wants us to be as confident in his mercy. Invite family members to identify the things that they most need from God. Pray these prayers of petition together as a family, confident that God will hear and answer your prayers.