A Time to Act

Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My child is tormented by a demon” (Matt 15:22).
 
To grasp the power of today’s story of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter we need to know the level of mutual animosity between Israel and its pagan neighbors.  The term “dog” used by Jesus was a common epithet used by Jews to demean pagans. They were not God’s chosen people, outside the blessing and therefore, like so many outsiders in history, less than human and unworthy of respect.
 
From the Canaanite perspective, the Jews were conquerors, usurpers of Canaanite land and political enemies. The same attitudes that created the borders of Israel functioned within to belittle northern Galilee for its diluted religious identity because of its dealings with pagans, or to create intense hostility with Samaritans, collaborators who remained and intermarried with foreigners at the time of the Babylonian conquest and exile.  Today’s story has some of shock found in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
 
On the face of it, we see the encounter between Jesus and the woman on the border as the expansion of attitudes that occurred in the early church as its mission shifted from Jewish to gentile converts.  Matthew emphasizes Jesus’s own openness to pagans, foreigners, Samaritans and Romans during his ministry. The kingdom he preached was open to all, and its power to reconcile ethnic, religious and racial difference was what demonstrated its authenticity.  Only the grace and will of God could make unity of such diversity.
 
As Jesus enters a world fragmented by every sort of prejudice and division, he brings people together. He heals the blindness caused by fear and hatred of the “other.” He turns enemies into friends, strangers into neighbors, outsiders to insiders, and he opens doors and makes room at the table for everyone. This was the astonishing message of the Good News as it moved into the Mediterranean world, creating unity out of diversity.
 
A living Word addresses the church today as the world reels from violent acts meant to divide and sow fear. The poisonous rhetoric of terrorists, supremacist and racist groups, co-opted and fueled by divisive politics, commands media attention and recruits adherents from disaffected pockets in our society. A growing sense of foreboding moves across our land as ideology and history are used to revive the demons of anti-Semitism, racial prejudice, hyper nationalism and phobias of every kind. Let loose the “dogs of war" and civil strife, tear down our institutions and withdraw into tribal camps eager to do battle.
 
What seemed unimaginable now becomes the urgent focus of our prayers as the Christian community comes to the table of God’s mercy to remember the death of the Lord to heal the world’s divisions. The breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup are the antidote to diabolical efforts to destroy the beloved community Jesus gave his life to proclaim.  We are sent from that table as ambassadors of reconciliation and channels of God’s peace.  The living Word enters us and we are sent to make it heard, loud and clear.