20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Dominican Friar (Priest) reflects on the Sunday (August 20) Readings

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7                Romans 11:13-15, 29-32               Mt. 15:21-28

            In his book Years of Minutes: The Best of Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes (Essay Productions, 2003), Andy Rooney makes some comments in his essay “On Mixing Flavors.   “Obviously, I like to eat,” writes Andy “but I do have some rules. I don’t mix flavors. I like vanilla ice cream and I like chocolate ice cream but I don’t put them in a dish together. Friday, I went to the deli across the street and took a sandwich and a Coke back here to my office. I opened the Coke, took a gulp and almost spewed it over the papers on my desk. I looked at the label and it said VANILLA COKE. Well, I like Coke and I like vanilla but I dislike VANILLA COKE.” 

My guess is that Andy dislikes mixed flavors because of the way he perceives the mixture. His perception of things is based upon what he can see, what he can smell, and certainly what he can taste. But what Andy perceives with his senses does not reveal the true nature of any mixture. Did Andy ever consider that a mixture of two or more kinds of food might provide the essential nutrients that are not found alone? For example, cranapple juice provides the vitamins and minerals found in cranberries and the vitamins and minerals found in apples. Mixed together—cranberries and apples do far more good together than they do alone. But Andy would find this out only if he looks beyond what he can see, smell, and taste to the essence of the mixture.

  In today’s gospel, Jesus, like Andy, is responding to what he perceives with his physical senses. Jesus sees and hears a Canaanite woman. Jesus sees and hears his disciples complain. And Jesus spews out that he doesn’t like to mix Jews and Canaanites. After all, the Canaanites were the first people who tried to keep the chosen people from entering the Promised Land. After all, the Canaanite was a woman and women at the time Jesus lived were considered to be property and not people. After all, the woman was pleading for her child who was a female. After all, the child had a problem, which according to Jewish belief, was caused by the sin of her parents. I don’t mix Canaanites with Jews—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel!” Jesus says in reply. But the woman will not accept how Jesus perceives her. She slowly and confidently challenges Jesus to see her true nature. First, she does him homage as women were expected to do. Second, she acknowledges his Jewish status over the Canaanites by addressing him as the Son of David. Third, she waits appropriately for his response to her request. But her subtle and consistent challenge causes Jesus to look beyond who she is as a Canaanite woman with a sick child to see her true nature as a human being. She like Jesus is a person of faith whose love and concern for another human being has brought her to Jesus.

    I want to point out to you that at first Jesus did not say a word to the woman. It was his disciples who not only brought him the problem but had the solution to the problem—“Send her away for she keeps calling out after us.” Could it be that Jesus was slowly and consistently challenging his disciples to see beyond their own bigotry and cultural biases?  And if so, what is the gospel challenging us to do?

Throughout the world but especially in the United States there is a social reality called “White Privilege”. White privilege allows white people to have opportunities and freedom that people of color do not have. Peggy McIntosh, once associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, gives us some examples of white privilege:

  1. White privilege is when I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. White privilege is when if I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  3. White privilege is when I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  4. White privilege is when I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  5. White privilege is when I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

    Peggy also points out that there is white male privilege. White male privilege allows white males to have opportunities and freedom that women of any color do not have. Here are some examples:

  1. White male privilege is when my odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants are probably skewed in my favor.
  2. White male privilege is when I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.
  3. White male privilege is when my elected officials are people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.
  4. White male privilege is if I buy a new car, chances are I’ll be offered a better price than a woman buying the same car.
  5. White male privilege is when I am being unaware of my white male privilege.

    I believe that today’s gospel is challenging us to look at our lives not only with our white privilege and my white male privilege but all privileges that belong to some and not to others. We are challenged to ask ourselves how we can work together to bring freedom and opportunity to all people. Can we look beyond physical appearances to the nature of our humanity and be united with people because our pain, our suffering, our faith, our hope, and our love have no color? 

   At the end of his comments “On Mixing Flavors” Andy Rooney says: “You know . . . maybe I’ll retire and go into business. I’d make an artificially flavored, fat-free, honey-coated hazelnut hot dog. You could have it with no-cal French vanilla or chocolate flavored mustard.” 

          My response? Right on Andy!  As long as there are hot dogs available for everyone!   

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