Coming to God's holy mountain, 20th Sunday 2017

Friends, from the heart, I thank God coming back after a few weeks of vacation in Nigeria. Thank you to all who thought of me in your prayers during my absence. Your prayers meant a lot. Time after time God shows that those who put their hope on him never become ashamed. He is their victory, joy, strength and refuge. During my trip to Nigeria, I could experience God's hand in my life. With boldness and strength, I testified of the power and the gospel power. When I celebrated my 50th birthday a week before I left for vacation, I said that I feel at home here in Sweden. Every time I travel, I long to return.  Now Sweden is home and elsewhere I feel like a guest. Here is my soul in peace. I know that God is waiting for me here and therefore I am in peace. Faith is the tool with which we defeat the world. Without faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we can do nothing. In 1 John 4 and 5, we hear of a belief that defeats the world. Faith in God fulfils what it promises. It is such faith that we meet in both the first reading and the gospel of the day. In a time when Christian faith has become for many Christian sorcery, when it is confused with magic, superstition, unbelief, it is important to see how Jesus guides a human heart to seek the healer instead of healing, miracle worker instead of miracle. The ‘Christian sorcery’ and superstition that characterize today's 'Christians' have no place in Christianity.

Today's gospel can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted (Matthew 15: 21-28). The story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus can be somewhat difficult to understand. It seems to support those who claim that God does not answer our prayers or that he does not exist at all. God seems abstract and dead. Yet, God must be concrete and living for us. Jesus's discussion with the woman seems at first sight to be discriminatory. The woman shouted to Jesus and received no answer from him while he heard her shouting. The disciples ask Jesus to tell the woman to leave them alone. Instead of answering them, Jesus says something else. "I have not been sent to anyone other than the lost sheep of the people of Israel". This makes one even more confused. On the woman's prayer, "Lord, help me," Jesus answers: "It's not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to the dogs." Is it not terrible that he compares the woman with dogs? Is it not strange that Jesus answers the woman in this way? Yet, the prophet Isaiah had predicted that the Messianic kingdom would not be only for Jews but for all nations.

The Evangelist Matthew tells us how Jesus, in compassion with the Canaanite woman, finally responded to her prayer and cured her sick daughter. The second time, Jesus helped a non-Jew was when he healed the officers’ servant in Kafarnaum (Matthew 8: 2-23). Apart from these two events, Jesus preached only among Jews. The event in today's gospel between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a story that deeply confirms that Jesus came for all people, yet he refuses to help her first because she was not Jew. The woman sought help from Jesus, but Jesus gave her no answer. I've always had a problem with this text. It is a difficult text. The action does not match Jesus' character and approach. He is here exclusive and apparently discriminatory. It is hard not to say that the woman did not receive a good response from Jesus. It can be said that Jesus did indeed brush her off.  Yet, there are many examples in the scripture where Jesus shows incredible compassion with those who suffer. In contrast, in today's text, it seems that he did not want to help the woman.

What does Jesus want to teach us about the way he relates to the woman in the text? God always speaks everywhere and through everything. If someone does not hear, it is not because God does not speak but because he or she does not hear at God’s wavelength. When the people who have sought Jesus found him, he says to them; "Do not work for the food that is perishable, but for the food that constitutes and donates eternal life." To give his life to God means: Now I never want to live for myself, but for others. It is to be a means of salvation for others. All Jesus did, he did for us - pro nobis. He has been crucified for us. When he arose from the dead he did it for us. In Jesus, all humankind dies and arises. God shares his gifts, but he does not give his gifts unless people really want to receive them.

The woman's request that her daughter be cured is essentially a hunger and thirst for God. Her hunger and thirst seem at first to be like a thirst only after bodily healing. One could claim that she was looking for Jesus just to make the daughter well. Jesus applies this by not speaking openly about the Kingdom of Heaven, but decided in parables. An expensive gift is provided in a suitable package. Some people are so fond of packaging that they do not think about opening the package. They do not search for the content. They trample on God's gifts. In our time, we are accustomed to seeing people running from church to church or from pastor to another in search of healing or success. Often it may be that you want to experience something sensational not because you want to deepen your faith in Jesus. Once we have understood our faith, we can realize that one day in God’s house is better than a thousand years elsewhere.

The woman’s request could, of course, be described as a search for not Jesus, the life-giver but for miracles. Jesus understood this. Therefore, he would lead her to search not only for external healing but also to seek healing that consists of seeking the one who is life himself, the miracle water. The degree of one's hunger before God usually determines the degree of God's answer. Because God wants to give us his life, he creates hunger and thirst for himself in us so that we can have life. He gives us a thirst that cannot be extinguished by anything but God himself. Those who thirst for God receive the living water.

Everyone is invited to worship God. Non-Jews who receive God as their God, maintain the law and the covenants of God, shall be welcomed into the temple of God and their offerings shall be accepted in the same way as the offerings of the Jews. Salvation is for everyone, it is universal. God is God for all people not only for Jews (Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7). The Jews became proud and no longer listened to God. They served God with their mouths, but their hearts were far away. They had become worldly and political and thus lost interest in God and his kingdom. They wanted a worldly empire with power. When Jesus arrived, they did not know him and could not accept him.

It is the same fate that many of the newly chosen people live in. The power of the world and its attractions tempt many of us from the real-life God offers us. It is absurd how many people on earth strive to be wealthy y here on earth as if they were living here for more than 120 years. The God of Money (Mammon) blinds people and holds them captivated so that they do anything to get money and whatever money could buy. The desire for material things is within every human being. A human is truly free when she continually chooses God and his will and does not choose to follow her own desire. There are those who think that such prescription would limit their possibilities and act.

As God showed His mercy toward the Gentiles, He will also show mercy to the Jews and save them. Therefore, we learn that God never takes back his promise and his gifts. Our faith is a gift from God (Romans 11: 13-15). Our ancestors denied God, but we have come to know God, our Creator. Through baptism we have become Christ's brothers and sisters. We always need prayer for the conversion of the Jews. We have the same father in faith as they, Abraham. Through the Jews, salvation came to the whole world. For a time, they were a people whom God loved. Each of us is wonderful in the eyes of God.

Through the Canaanite woman, Jesus wants to teach us the importance of being persistent in prayer. Never give up no matter how hard it may be. Fight the good fight to the last and God will prove powerful in your life. God's compassion is not like our compassion; Infertile, passive emotions. Jesus has not come to comfort just some people. He has come to establish all and restore everything. The word of Jesus, although misunderstood as insulting, is an expression of his love for this despised woman. In Nain, Jesus raised a widow's son. This incident shows us that Jesus cares for all people who are facing challenges. The woman was surely overwhelmed by happiness when her daughter recovered. That Jesus finally healed her daughter demonstrate his love to his people. We are God's new chosen people. The Christian Church is the new temple of God. It is open to all people. Through baptism, everyone can become God's children and citizens of heaven.

"God wants all to be saved" (1 Timothy 2: 4). Therefore, he sent his only-begotten son (John 3.16). Everyone has a chance to hear the goodnews. It is universal; no one is ruled out. The gift of God is protected at the same time. Only the one who is open to them receives them. The words of Jesus: whoever can do this "(Matthew 19:12) also applies here. Through baptism, we have all received God's great gifts and calling. What do we do with these gifts? Have they lost their holiness in our lives? Are we trampling on our status as God's adopted children, heirs to the Kingdom of God? It is primarily through our way of living, speaking and acting that we show if we care about God's gifts and calling in our lives. We are invited to exercise righteousness. The risk is always that we seek substitutes instead of the one who is the healer. We seek miracle instead of the miracle worker. If we really want to be healed then we must seek the healer instead of just healing. When we are in Christ's love, his power becomes visible in our lives.

There is a widespread belief among many people that the most important and desirable today is success or material prosperity. This means that many want to do whatever it takes to be materially prosperous. The idea is that living by this means achieving success and having joy in life. Time after time this has proved to be an illusion. Human happiness is not due to material prosperity. It's big mistake that we probably all make ourselves guilty of looking for joy for its own sake. If you ‘work’ for joy, you will not be able to keep it. Joy is a gift, you receive when you love. What does it mean if you have everything but lose your soul? "First, seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness, says the evangelist Matthew, and everything else shall be given to you" (6.33). Seek Jesus and you will see His power. It will be as you yearn when his love is in you. Chikezie Onuoha msp

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