Culture Shock

(Homily for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Today’s readings contain elements of “culture shock,” the jarring things that happen when someone ventures from a familiar environment to an alien one. As an Anglo working with Hispanics, that is something I have experienced – and continue to experience. One of the mild confusions regards estimating ages. Anglos, especially those with white hair or none, tend to look a bit older than they actually are, while dark-haired Hispanics tend to look younger than their true age.

While in Peru I ran into a health worker whom I had known during my missionary years. Seeing me again, she started talking about how young I look. “Oh, come on.” I said. “No it’s true, padre,” she said. “You haven’t changed a bit.” Turning to her husband, she got him to agree that I looked the same. She kept it up and I have to admit, I was thinking that, even though she was exaggerating, there is probably some truth in what she is saying. As she moved away, I could hear her talking to another friend. “Doesn’t Padre Felipe look good? He hasn’t aged a bit. It is amazing because by now he must be at least eighty years old!”

Talk about being deflated! I guess it is good for the soul. I don’t know if Jesus had that in mind for the Canaanite woman. It hardly seems she needed any humbling. The circumstances of her life, especially her daughter’s condition, had brought her low. How much of her people’s prejudices against the Galileans she shared, we do not know. The cosmopolitan, coastal people in general looked down on those from the interior, the hill country. On the coast they held a broad, syncretistic religion which seemed so tolerant in comparison to the more narrow Jewish faith. Yet, in her need, she turned to this man.*

Have pity on me…
My daughter is tormented by a demon.

What ensues is one of the most puzzling – and troubling – passages in the Gospels. Not only do the disciples want to get rid of her, but apparently so does Jesus. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then he adds something one would not expect from the Lord’s lips – a comparison of non-Israelites to dogs.

Now, dogs of course are beautiful animals – loyal, smart, funny. I love dogs in general and my own in particular. Sometimes it seems like the real insult would be to refer to a dog as “human.” And we have probably all seen the poster showing a sad faced Beagle with flowers at his paws, which advises ladies to check out the local dog pound if they are looking for “Mr. Right.” Still, in spite of all this, few people want their own social group referred to as “dogs” (or even puppies). As far as we know, ancient Canaanites were no exception to the rule.

Cross cultural put-downs – whether intended or not – can do great damage. They have a way of entering a group’s lore; they are then brought up again and again to justify suspicion and resentment. In this case, however, the outcome was different. There must have been something in Jesus’ demeanor, perhaps his tone of voice, which invited further conversation. The woman of course deserves enormous credit. Where others would see a bitter dead-end, she saw an opening and used it for her child’s advantage. “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat scraps that fall from the table…”

What a magnificent example! We live in age when people quickly take offense and cling to it – excuse the comparison – like a dog to a bone. The resentment only intensifies if the person discovers that he belongs to a whole class of mistreated souls. They form a subculture which develops its own language and repertoire of grievance stories. If you find yourself part of such a subculture – and who today is not? – try meditating on the example of the Canaanite woman. No doubt you have been dealt a lousy hand, but so was she. Like her we need to keep a sense of perspective (sometimes also called a sense of humor) and to seek out the only one who can set things aright. Perhaps we will also hear those beautiful words, “How great is your faith!”


*When some is in trouble, they do not want syncretism; they want faith. That is the reason why "liberal" churches are declining and "conservative" churches are growing.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twentieth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Deep vs. Superficial Faith
2008: Help Me, Lord
2005: Culture Shock
2002: God's Favoritism
1996: Woman, How great is your faith!

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (World Youth Day, Vandalism & Firebombing of church, Valley of Bones)


From Amy: "Brothers" (nice discussion at her site)

Michael Medved:

It is ironic that sixty years after the Holocaust – with anti-Semitism virulent among Islamic fundamentalists and growing rapidly among secular Europeans – the liberal media in the West has tried to blame Pope Pius XII (and even the Catholic Church as a whole) for anti-Semitism. Was Pope Pius XII secretly in league with Adolf Hitler? No, says Rabbi David G. Dalin, in his revealing new book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. In fact, as Pope Pius XII worked to save Jews from the Nazis, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, became Hitler’s staunch ally and a promoter of the Holocaust, with a legacy that feeds radical Islam today. In this shocking and thoroughly documented book, Rabbi Dalin explodes the myth of Hitler’s pope and condemns the myth-makers for not only rewriting history, but also for denying the testimony of Holocaust survivors, hijacking the Holocaust for unseemly political ends, and ignoring the real threat to the Jewish people.

Your tax dollars at work: Planned Parenthood Fantasizes About Blowing Up 'Anti-Choicers'

From Faith Mouse:

World Net report on the PP video

Free Speech at William Paterson University

From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany

Fr. Jim Tucker Edith Stein and Nagasaki

And from BBC News:

Anaesthetics and disinfectants are thought to be a modern medical invention but evidence is coming to light that medieval doctors knew of them too. Evidence found at the ancient Soutra Hospital site, in Scotland, suggests the medieval Augustine monks also knew how to amputate limbs, fashion surgical instruments, induce birth, stop scurvy and even create hangover cures.

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