20th Sunday: There Are No "Foreigners" in the Reign of God.
The readings for this Sunday are among the most difficult passages in the Bible. St. Paul seems to be talking in circles when he says to the Romans: "If the rejection of the Jews has meant reconciliation for the world, what would their acceptance mean, nothing less than life from the dead." In the Gospel, Jesus appears to be cold, even callous to the woman crying out for help. First he refuses to help her saying, 'My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then, he appears to insult her by saying, "it is not right to take the food of the sons and daughters and feed it to the dogs." We need to spend some time trying to understand these readings so we can profit from the Church's message to us today.
First of all, let’s look at the reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. Can you imagine the terrible opposition St. Paul had to face when he tried to convince the pagans to become Christian? Here he was, a Jew, telling gentiles or non-Jews, that salvation has come through Jesus, also a Jew. Many of Paul’s own people, the Jewish people in the area, said that Paul was insane. Still, the Gentiles followed Christ. That's why Paul says, "If so many of the gentiles listened to me, a former pharisee, and follow Jesus despite the opposition of the Jews, imagine what would happen if the Jews were to accept Jesus. The whole world would be Christian." Then, building on this concept, Paul reasons (in my paraphrase of his words): Well, you gentiles ignored what your consciences told you was right when you embraced pagan atrocities like orgies, etc. By going against your consciences, you were sinning; you were being disobedient to God. But your very disobedience became an occasion for you to receive God's mercy. Now the Jews, who are the chosen people of the Lord, have also disobeyed God's will, by rejecting the Christ. Still, their disobedience can result in God's mercy being extended to them if they call out to God in faith. Jews and Gentiles have sinned, but God’s mercy is greater than their sins.
And God's mercy and love is available to all. That is what is at the heart of the gospel passage. The Canaanite woman who seeks help at first receives the response she should expect from a Jew: "It is not right to take the food of the sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs." This follows the Jewish custom of speaking about the gentiles as dogs. Jesus purposely spoke in a way that the Jews would expect a Jew to speak. Then he turns the tables on them. Because this woman has great faith and persists in pleading for her child, he heals her daughter.
In Christ all divisions and differences between people are irrelevant. You might remember Paul's passage in Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. All are one in Christ." God's mercy is extended to all who call upon him in faith.
As obvious as this seems, there have been people throughout the world and throughout history who do not recognize the equality of all people before the Lord. We have just concluded a century that was dominated by the events leading to and resulting from the worst war mankind has ever suffered. Nazism claimed that certain people were far more blessed by God than others. For them anyone who was not part of the Aryan race was an inferior human being. Taken to its extreme, the Nazis had no difficulties in killing gypsies, Jews, and others they claimed were a burden to God's plan for mankind.
Outside of Christianity, the world has been suffering from radical Islam. These people think that they are serving God by murdering innocent people, including children. It is shocking that these radicals behave like cowards yet think that they are courageous fighters.
Here in America there have also been people who have decided that they were more blessed by the Lord than others, as though God put them in charge of establishing a pecking order for him. There was a time when Americans believed, and some still believe, that wealth demonstrates a special relationship to the Lord. The implication was that those without wealth are a lesser part of His creation. There was a time when Americans believed, and some still believe, that their race or their ethnic background was more blessed by the Lord than others. Sadly our country is still suffering from militaristic white supremacist groups that have the gall to claim God's blessing upon what is in fact their rejection of Christianity. How dare they sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" and speak about the Lord Jesus while they make plans to attack African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans and anybody else that does not share their ethnic background?
Jesus Christ will not exclude anyone from God's love and mercy. But those who think they have a right to focus their infantile insecurities into hatred of others have themselves excluded Christ from their own lives.
The tables have been turned. The former enemy of God's plan, the Canaanite, has now received the blessing of God. The tables have been turned. Those who had refused to acknowledge the existence of the one God, the pagans, have now become the most fervent believers. The tables have been turned. Those from foreign continents whose ancestors never heard of Jesus have become true Christians. And those of us whose ancestors were called to follow the Lord many generations ago have been invited to share the bread of the Lord, the compassion of Christ, with all who call out to Him in mercy and love.