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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman with the help of feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and the kingdom of God on earth; engage Catholic Social Teaching with papal calls to a “culture of encounter”; and embody these ideas with the help of theologian Nontando M. Habede and Catholic Women Preach.

Commentary by Adam Beyt PhD

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says YHWH:
“Do what is right,
work for justice.
For my liberation is about to come
and my justice is about to be revealed.”
For thus says YHWH,
“The foreigners who join themselves to me,
ministering to me,
loving the name of YHWH, and becoming my servants—
all who observe the Sabbath and do not profane it,
and cling to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain.
I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 67

Response: Let the nations praise You, O God.

God, show kindness and bless us, / and make Your face smile on us!
For then the earth will acknowledge Your ways
And all the nations will know of Your power to save.
R: Let the nations praise You, O God.

Let the nations shout and sing for joy,
Since You dispense true justice to the world;
You dispense strict justice to the peoples,
On earth You rule the nations.
R: Let the nations praise You, O God.

Let the nations praise You, O God, / let all the nations praise You!
May God bless us, and let God be feared to the very ends of the earth.
R: Let the nations praise You, O God.

Reading 2

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

I say this now to you Gentiles:
“Inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry,
trying to rouse my own people to jealousy and save some of them.
For if their rejection has meant reconciliation for the world,
what will their acceptance mean?
Nothing less than life from the dead!
God’s gift and God’s call are irrevocable.

Just as you were once disobedient to God
and now have received mercy through Israel’s disobedience,
now they have become disobedient
— since God wished to show you mercy —
that they too may receive mercy.
God has imprisoned all in disobedience
in order to have mercy on everyone.”


Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and departed for the district of Tyre and Sidon.
It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that area came and cried out to Jesus,
“Heir to the House of David, have pity on me!
My daughter is horribly demon-possessed.”

Jesus gave her no word of response.
The disciples came up and repeatedly said to him,
“Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us.”
Finally Jesus turned to the woman and said,
“My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

She then prostrated herself before him with the plea,
“Help me, Rabbi!”
He answered,
“But it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“True, Rabbi,” she replied,
“but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table.”
Jesus then said in reply,
“Woman, you have great faith!
Your wish will come to pass.”

At that very moment her daughter was healed.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Women of Great Faith

Today’s readings include a narrative in which many people see a parallel problem with the contemporary institutional Church: the inability to honor the voices, concerns, and authority of individuals based on their gender. For many encountering the passage for the first time, Jesus and his disciples come across as disrespectful. Jesus seems to ignore the Canaanite woman at first, leading the disciples to request that he sends her away. Recalling aloud that his mission was devoted to the Israelites, he continues to ignore her due to her belonging to a different community. When she persists, he refers to her as a “dog.” Yet, the unnamed woman takes that derogatory term, flips it on its head, and reminds Jesus of mercy. He then finally responds to her behest. 

Many people reading the text are likely to be disturbed by how Jesus seems to ignore the plight and basic dignity of the Canaanite woman. Readers of this text today might think of the myriad of institutional problems with gender and authority within the contemporary institutional Church, along with the multitude of ways their voices are either silenced or ignored.

One such scholar who strongly emphasizes the voices of women’s authority is Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Born in Romania in 1938, she was raised mostly in Frankfurt. She received her Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of Münster in 1964. After marrying American theologian Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, she moved to the United States where she taught at the University of Notre Dame before moving to Harvard Divinity School.

In 1983, Schüssler Fiorenza published her most famous work of biblical and theological scholarship, In Memory of Her. In this text, she foregrounds one of the central themes of her work, a term she created, “kyriarchy.” The term is a combination of the Greek words “kyrios,” meaning Lord (or more accurately “sir”), and “archos,” meaning rule. Her term describes the collusion of ideas of God with patriarchal structures. In Memory of Her also functions as a biblical and theological excavation for the roots of the ekklesia, a Greek word meaning Church or congregation. For Schüssler Fiorenza, Jesus discloses the basileia (a Greek term translated sometimes as “Kingdom” or “Reign”) of God, a radically egalitarian community that dismantles socially imposed hierarchies. Her work tracks the development of the early Christian communities that dismantled such hierarchies, including gender, into an institution that capitulated to the patriarchal norms of the late Roman empire. She thus tracks the early development of how the Church became the kyriarchal institution that many struggle with today. Schüssler Fiorenza advocates for a reclaiming of radical language of the basileia movement to reimagine how we think about the type of Christian community we aim to build.

One notable aspect of Schüssler Fiorenza’s work is her ability to absorb criticisms. One of the main critiques of many feminist movements she was a part of were, and are, their failures to recognize how gender oppression can collude with other interlocking forms of oppression, such as race, class, body shape, age, ability, or neurodiversity. Her more recent work attempts to recognize the expansiveness of gender.

Returning to the Canaanite woman, we find much to admire: her persistence in speaking truth to a man, requiring nerve; her wit at turning an insult into a challenge for Christ. We can also model how Jesus himself is challenged and grows from her persistence. We might note that Jesus demonstrates a willingness to change and reimagine what his mission looked like, and just how radical the basileia movement really is.

Commentary by Adam Beyt PhD

Adam Beyt, PhD, is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Norbert College. He works on political theology, theological anthropology, and queer theory. He is currently working on a manuscript engaging the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx and the philosophy of Judith Butler tentatively titled Remaking Humanity: Embodiment and Hope in Catholic Theology.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching


While not necessarily an explicitly stated principle within Catholic social thought, the “culture of encounter” has come to define much of Pope Francis’s ministry. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has understood itself to be more in dialogue with the rest of the world. Francis, like John Paul II and Benedict XVI, sees human beings as fundamentally relational, meaning we are in relationships to God, to all of humanity, and to creation. For Francis, the pervasive “culture of domination” disrupts that relationality. The culture of domination sees other humans or facets of creation to be dominated and exploited for personal gain. The culture of domination is the source of many different social ills, ranging from environmental degradation to exploitative economic practices. One could also recognize patriarchy as a gender-adjacent product of the culture of domination.

In direct contrast to the culture of domination, the “culture of encounter” describes a radical humility and openness to the nexus of relationships in which we are all embedded. This viewpoint sees marginalized communities as sites of God’s grace along with an invitation to radical conversion to recognize different ways of knowing. Instead of seeing the world through an exploitative and domineering lens, this culture views the world as one awash with grace, a sacramental viewpoint of finding “God in all things” as part of reimagining how the world is to look like. Francis describes this in his more recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, as dictating that “we, as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone.”

With this call to dialogue in the culture of encounter, Francis invites building a better world while validating our differences. Francis invites all of humanity to a radical solidarity and responsibility to relationships we are embedded in – those with whom we are radically different and even nonhuman creation itself. With this culture of encounter, he aims to slowly dismantle sources of cultural domination. Returning to the Canaanite woman from today’s passage, we might also note how Jesus is (eventually) able to model this practice of relationality by demonstrating an openness to changing his mind and growing from the encounter with this human who was perceived as an “other” by many Israelites.


A Witness

Nontando M. Habede, PhD

Nontando M. Habede, PhD, has done much work to emphasize the theological authority of women while working to mitigate gender-based discrimination. Born in Zimbabwe, she currently resides in South Africa. She has a doctorate in theology from St. Augustine College of South Africa. Raised as a Catholic, her spiritual journey subsequently took her to the Baptist and Anglican/Lutheran churches, before coming back to the Catholic Church.

Formerly employed for St. Augustine College in South Africa, Habede now works for Side by Side. Side by Side is a growing global movement of people of faith who want to see gender justice become a reality across the world. Habede is also a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. This organization works to emphasize the voices of Christian African women as a source of theological knowledge production.

As a scholar, Habede’s work has always emphasized the socially transformative aspects of the Gospel. Her dissertation examined Augustine’s notion of the Trinity in light of the HIV/AIDS crisis within the African continent. Her other publications have focused on the legacy of colonization within higher education throughout theological education within Africa. Finally, she has done much to stand as an advocate for LGBTQ+ Catholics throughout the continent. Not dissimilar to the work of Schüssler Fiorenza in advocating for the different voices of women or the “culture of encounter” emphasized throughout the papacy of Francis, Habede works towards justice for many marginalized communities.

A Community

Catholic Women Preach

Instead of presenting a community, at least in terms of a physical parish, consider a digital community that more people on this website would have immediate access to. “Catholic Women Preach,” as its name implies, uplifts the voices of lay women and sisters as they interpret the readings from the lectionary. The community functions as a free, pastoral resource for lay people, clergy, and theologians to engage with Scripture. Each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation features a woman from a different background offering her engagement with Scripture.

As many may know, the preaching of the laity has been largely forbidden, except in special circumstances. Catholic Women Preach recognizes the universal call to preaching the Gospel that all baptized Catholics are called to perform. Given that we live in an age of the Church that currently does not honor the vocation of Catholics who are not cisgender men to serve as priests, this community honors the insights, wisdom, and authority of voices, not unlike the woman from today’s Gospel, who have been marginalized. I invite you to consider this community along with The Just Word Commentary, to be an additional means of engaging the lectionary throughout the liturgical calendar.


“Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi.

“Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi.


Image description: Against a dark background, the Assyrian general Holofernes, with a dark hair and beard, lies on a bed covered with a burgundy blanket and white sheets. One woman, wearing a blue dress and white head covering holds him down while another woman, Judith, wearing a golden dress with her brown hair flowing down, beheads Holofernes with a large sword.