In today’s opening song, “Come, Christians, join to sing!” – we heard the words, “Loud praise to Christ our King.”
Later in the liturgy we will pray the Lord’s prayer together and will begin by saying, “Our Father.”
It’s hard to talk about the divine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without becoming a little possessive by using phrases such as OUR God, or MY Savior. . .
And if we use this sort of language only to claim familiarity with God -- while fully embracing the universality of God – the idea that the entire human family comprises God’s daughters and sons ---- then we are on solid ground.
But sadly, that is NOT always the case – not just in today’s modern times – but in ancient times as well – that possessiveness is meant to include some – while excluding others. . .
This is quite evident in the Gospel story from St. Matthew which we just heard proclaimed.
This is one of the stories that at least for me – can be hard to listen to. After all, Jesus says some pretty harsh things.
A Canaanite woman comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter.
Now remember, when Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into the land of milk and honey – that promised land already belonged to other people ---
the Canaanites – who from that day forward, became bitter enemies --- one group because someone took what was theirs and claimed it as their own, and the other group because someone was standing in the way of what God had led them to and promised them.
So -- at first Jesus ignores this woman . . . Then he says that he only came to save the lost sheep of Israel. And THEN he basically calls her a dog. All tough stuff --- so un-Christ-like.
Yet, what Jesus is doing--- is NOT saying what is in HIS heart. Rather he is saying and doing what his disciples and what all other Jewish people at the time would have thought.
Ignoring, dismissing, insulting – this is the common way Israelites, the Jews, would have treated Canaanites --- and, for full discloser -- certainly how Canaanites would have treated Jews. . . Theirs was a mutual disrespect and disregard. . .
The disciples were probably THRILLED with Jesus’ words and behavior. That is – until he turns the situation upside-down, as he so often does, by saying to this woman: “Oh woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Wait a minute, the disciples would have thought. This is our God --- the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of these heathen Canaanites. . . Why should our God care about them—when we certainly don’t. . .
For many people in the ancient world, including those following after Jesus – their God or gods – were NOT the God of ALL --- NOT protective of ALL, NOT the friend of ALL. God is on our side – NOT theirs. . .
But Jesus would have none of this way of thinking: O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. . .
But don’t we often act the same as the disciples??
Don’t we think at times that we have all the answers, while others don’t?
Don’t we think that God is ONLY on OUR side, and isn’t concerned about others?
Don’t we find it hard to affirm the religious traditions of others, find it hard to find ANY truths in religious language and customs that aren’t expressed EXACTLY in the same way we would express them??
Don’t we think that we kind of “own” God, that God is ours and not theirs????
Today’s Gospel is meant to be a kind of “arrogance check” for us as a people of faith – it’s meant to get us to reflect on how we see the faith traditions and spiritual journeys of others.
Do we dismiss those beliefs and journeys??
Do we demean people who don’t understand God in exactly the same way as we do?
Do we “blame” people who struggle in matters of faith, or people who find it difficult to even believe in the existence of God?
Do we think we have it all figured out and that others cannot really help us encounter the divine??
Tough questions. But let’s not be afraid to ask them honestly.
Perhaps these words of the Vatican II Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions --- can help guide us on our journey of life:
“The Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true and holy in any religion and, in fact, looks upon them with sincere respect.
Even though they differ from us, their ways of life and doctrines often reflect the truth that we all seek.
The Church, of course, continues to proclaim Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life,” but we also exhort all our members to be prudent and loving and open to dialogue with others.
We urge Christians to defend and promote the spiritual and moral benefits found among other world religions, including the values found in their cultures.”
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God’s holy mountain, and God’s house of prayer are big enough that we don’t need to try to exclude anyone --- who seeks the Lord with a sincere heart. For there IS a wideness to God’s mercy!
So perhaps we need to listen again to our opening prayer – and sincerely say: Amen: so be it:
Almighty and ever-living God, your care extends beyond the boundaries of race or nation to the hearts of ALL who live.
May walls, which separate people, crumble beneath the shadow of your outstretched arm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN!
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