Flowers manifest their beauty when they blossom, that is, when they open up. I just wonder if our humanity isn’t the same. Instead of wrapping onto ourselves, it’s perhaps when we open ourselves up to others that we can fully radiate the beauty of who we are. Let’s then welcome this Sunday’s word that proposes us a way of blossoming in our human relationships and in our faith.
Hey! He’s not for you alone!
In the first reading Isaiah announces, as God’s will: foreigners that worship God and observe his precepts, their sacrifice will be accepted by the Lord. The temple will be the house of prayer for all peoples. Such openness puts into question the reigning attitude of the Jewish people of the time who see God’s salvation like something for them alone. Taking seriously their vocation as chosen people they cut any relation with foreigners, for fear being contaminated. Hence, this is a call to open up and thus avoid wrapping onto themselves.
It’s interesting to see how the exile, an experience apparently negative, may have however contributed to the evolution of the mentality among the Jews. After living with foreigners Jews come to appreciate that perhaps foreigners are not that dirty as they think of them. Among them there are good people who sincerely seek to worship God. God loves them, and none shall be turned away. Nevertheless, it will take a long way to integrate in the daily life. The tendency to discriminate will creep along up to, and beyond, the time of Jesus.
Besides, if you can tolerate a little digression, this call to up open appears to me quite conditioned. What kind of foreigner will be accepted? The one who believes and practices as Israel does. This makes me think; aren’t there times when I want to accept other persons only as long as they act as like me? Maybe, there’s room to be more generous.
Pagans in Jesus’ society
In the Gospel a woman approaches Jesus for help; her daughter is possessed by a demon. But it’s like Jesus hears nothing –no answer at all till the disciples intervene. The disciples react not out of compassion for the woman but because she is annoying them –disturbing their peace. So they ask Jesus to send her away. It’s during such conversation that we have a shocking response by Jesus when the woman insists asking for help: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman knows what she wants and she won’t be put off, she responds: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Finally, her request is granted, the daughter is healed.
Anyhow, that does not solve the puzzle in me: why such insulting response to the woman in distress, only asking for help? Well, I take the liberty to reflect on this word in order to draw some nourishment for me.
Well, the text of this Sunday’s Gospel comes after the conversation of Jesus with the Pharisees about what contaminates. Jesus overturns the rigid view that sees impurity in terms of food. For him it’s not what we eat that makes us impure but rather the evil that comes from the heart. In his shocking response Jesus, indeed, lays bares the mentality of his fellow Jews who consider non-Jews as dogs. Mind you, it’s not like that pet you pamper like a son, but as a dirty and detestable animal. And it’s here Jesus introduces something new.
Open up a bit generously?
Jesus knows the mentality that prevails in his society vis-a-vis foreigners yet he doesn’t let himself be imprisoned in it. He expresses it and thereafter goes on to act differently. He opens up. Indeed, we know from other Gospels especially in Mark and Luke Jesus often shatters boundaries in order to reach out to those despised as sinners or as pagans.
Indeed, this word of God comes to overturn the thoughts and the attitudes that we harbour towards others. Just like Matthew wrote the Gospel especially for Christians of the Jewish background who may have probably continued to look down upon non-Jews Christians as second class. This word is an invitation to the Christian of today: what’s my attitude to persons who are in any way different from me?
If we can imagine, at first encounter, Jesus and his disciples see probably only a pagan. Yet, after talking to her they quickly discover in this pagan a woman animated by deep faith, rare even among those who live in the pride of being chosen people.
Who’s my Canaanite woman?
This word stimulates me to revisit the manner I look at others. So I should ask myself: what inner movement does this word invite me to make? That makes it necessary to look at myself with honesty: who’s the Canaanite woman in my life? That is, who’s that person I scorn simply because he’s not like me? Can I make an effort to see in that person, not a dirty dog, but a brother or a sister to love and respect?
Besides, how do I see myself in the chain of whatever group I find myself in; am I a link that opens to let others in, or am I a welded link that decidedly shuts others out?
I thank you Lord for the warmth of your word that blossoms the flower of my humanity and of my faith. I help me to remain open to others in mutual respect despite our diversity.