August 5, 2020
by Mike Cherney
Creighton University's Physics Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 113

Numbers 11:4B-15
Psalms 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Matthew 14:13-21
Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Judging Others? Or Ourselves?

In today’s passage from Jeremiah, we read of God’s promise to the Israelites of a better future. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a Syrophoenician woman and He eventually heals her daughter.

Much of Israel had been forcibly resettled when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Jeremiah presents a reassuring message as Israel returns following the fall of the empire, but it is the word “remnant” that strikes me at the end this passage. These are people who have been put to the test and survived.

The Gospel presents a Jesus that seems out of character. My mind drifts between two alternatives: Jesus was a man of his times or the Gospel writer was embellishing a story to make a point. Here, the use of derogatory language is attributed to Jesus. In addition, the text rather than referring to the woman as someone from the Roman province of Syrophoenicia, calls her a Canaanite using the historical name of an enemy of the Israelites. Jesus was raised in a Jewish culture in which a Canaanite would be particularly unwelcome. He also was living in a culture in which women clearly had a status lower than that of men. Could Jesus have been subject to these stereotypical biases? Was the author enhancing the point of Jesus welcoming the Gentiles? Was the author embellishing the story as a result of internal disputes within the Church regarding the membership of Gentiles? These are more subjects for biblical scholars. What I take away is that this woman was put to the test and she emerged successfully.

I find it strange that I am bothered by God putting people to the test. I taught physics for 27 years. While educators value resiliency or grit, virtually no one likes being tested. As a professor, I saw it as a necessary tool to see where individuals were. As someone who was employed to make assessments, I rarely liked being evaluated myself. I am sure that part of this is that I often continued to assess myself on the basis of others’ assessment of me.

When I consider how undaunted the Syrophoenician woman was by Jesus’ remarks, I am reminded of a graduate school experience. There was a professor who during my first year spoke to me individually saying that he did not think that I had the ability to finish a physics Ph.D. Years later I was surprised talking to others who had “survived” and discovered how many of them had received the same assessment from this professor. Although many of us quietly held inside the feeling that “I will show him”, it was interesting to note how many had confided with others assuming the comments were related to where one had done their undergraduate work, their gender, or some other reason. Still those who had emerged successfully had sufficient internal drive that they were not devastated by this professor’s comment.

I realize that I am at my best when I am functioning from my own internal motivation, conducting myself on the basis of what was in my heart, rather than on the basis of what others would think. In many ways I find this similar to acting with the Holy Spirit. It is amazing how fears and the judgments of others become less of a concern when acting from the heart. Still, too often I find myself clinging to what I take as safe, familiar and judged to be proper. My sense is perhaps God’s “test” is not so much an evaluation as it is a call to trust. My prayer today involves developing that trust.

Dear Lord,
I am an individual subject to the judgments of others.
Assist me in developing a heart that is open to You.
Help me in my willingness to let that heart serve as the motivating force.
Strengthen me against criticism that might impede me in my call.
Recognizing the innate worth of all individuals, help me to avoid being critical and passing judgments.

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