We are preparing to celebrate the Eucharistic embraced by Jesus of all. This “all” means all within each of us and all who are around us. We are urged in every celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection to live that loving embrace to those whom we find different.
We are invited to a freedom from prejudging and from a territorial selectivity which results in exclusion. Our reception of the Eucharist is a reception of the totality of His Body. Our personal “amen” becomes the pledge of our reception of His brothers and sisters. This takes much prayer and opening of hearts and minds.
The previous chapters of Isaiah have dealt with Israel’s being comforted in their state of exile with promises of abundance of life and joy. With these verses we hear in our First Reading, a different historical time is the setting. Different human needs and failings are addressed. In our reading we hear an oracle which is an invitation to the people of Israel to welcome those from other lands if they will observe the rituals of their tradition.
God reveals that the temple will be a house of prayer for all peoples. As they, Israel, have been gathered back into a community of praise and reverence of the saving God, so they must now gather into their relationship with God, those beyond territorial boundaries. Everyone belongs to each other, because each belongs to God.
The “salvation and justice” is to be observed as the “right” thing for God to do and those who see it are urged to extend it in their own lives. This “justice” will extend to all within the Israelite community and to others who are known as foreigners. As a result of wars and especially religious differences, foreigners were feared, hated and excluded from every form of relationship. This is a religious revolution almost beyond their hearing and understanding. The precious temple “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Just imagine that.
Such a person walks toward Jesus in today’s Gospel. She is a Canaanite who has crossed the sacred boundaries and entered the land promised only to Israel. She has heard of Jesus and addresses Him with words of praise and supplication. She comes with a most motherly and human need. Jesus makes no immediate reply and His disciples ask Him to send her away.
Jesus responds with a strictly Matthewan theme. Jesus has been sent first to regather the lost sheep, the people of Israel. They have been lost as the People of God by being dominated by an other empire, namely the Romans. They have also been mislead by some of the Jewish religious leaders with whom Jesus is often in conflict. The woman, as a foreigner, does what all of Israel is called to do, she did Him homage and remade her caring request from need and faith.
Jesus makes an apparently harsh response. Foreigners were referred to as “dogs.” Jesus reminds her and His disciples that he is sent directly to feed the “children” of Israel and not foreigners. The woman seems ready for this and comes back with an unanswerable statement herself. In response Jesus grants her the health of her daughter because of her faith. It is important to note that the Greek verb used by the disciples means that Jesus should send her away having granted her request. Matthew desires to show that faith in Jesus more than merely being a bother is essential for an authentic relationship with God.
These readings highlight an extremely sensitive and important area of religion. There is a rising spirit of qualitative competition among Christian sects and between various traditions of faith about which one is the best, the correct, the most blessed. Here at our Catholic University there are groups who say that if others are not in their group, well they are going to hell. These are small groups, but frightening.
Not all people of the Muslim faith are terrorists Not all African/Americans demand racial separation and black-supremacy. I assume that in which of the many faiths we find ourselves, we assume ours is the right one, the best one. If we look at our faith that way, then we necessarily will look down upon other people with whom God also relates.
Jesus was and always was of the ancient Jewish faith. He challenged some of the Jewish leaders as one of them Himself. In all His discussions with these various groups, Jesus was calling them back to the original and authentic relationship God had initiated with them centuries ago. Is one religion as good as any other? This is a complicated question and no one answer satisfies.
Christianity, Judaism, and all other religions which have at their centers a relationship with a deity involve faith. If it is a faith, then it is a leap beyond the certain. If this is true then qualitative criticism is inauthentic and unfaithful. The Canaanite woman comes from another neighborhood, but Jesus does not reject her or looks down upon her, or judge her out of God’s care. She possessed faith, because of her daughter’s need. Who does God exclude? God’s earth is a house of prayerful relating with the mysteries of life and the mystery of God.
I am a Catholic, a Christian and therefore I am bound to count no one person as a foreigner to God’s love. Differences from me and my beliefs do not mean diminishment or exclusion of others from my reverence or my heaven. I am freed by my faith not to qualify how I am doing nor assess how anybody else is doing or where they’re going. Jesus loved them all, reverenced them all and that’s our personal and communal life-mission. Does this all make sense? Who's to say.
“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” Ps. 130, 7
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