We Christians sometimes forget an inconvenient truth that as a result of the Incarnation, Jesus in his humanity was born into a particular culture at a particular time and was subject to the particular prejudices that were present. Oh sure, he pushed its boundaries from time to time; but he was still influenced by the mores of the times.
Case in point: today’s Gospel where for quite a while he is shown to be acting, well, unchristian. Jesus had approached pagan land. To identify the woman Matthew uses a term that was passé at the time: Canaanite, the original settlers in the land that the Jewish people had conquered and who remained somewhat hated enemies ever since. Jesus at first ignored her. The disciples then pleaded with Jesus to send her away. He answered that he didn’t come for anyone but the lost sheep of Israel, effectively cutting her and anyone else that was not Jewish from his mercy, compassion, and salvation. But she wouldn’t give up. She knelt in front of him and begged him. Finally he answered with a rebuke, calling her a dog, a non-person. She cleverly used his answer to cause him to look at her in a different way, recognizing her faith. Jesus was taught a lesson by a foreign woman: to pay attention to those outside his personal mission as he thought to be; you never know where you will find faith.
Isaiah prophesies a sort of inclusion in the 1st reading: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord … them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people (bold and italics added).
Last weekend we saw the opposite of both the O.T and the Gospel readings happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, with people brimming with hate for anyone who was not of the “white” race, a foreigner in their eyes and/or nonchristian. It was beyond ugly and ending up with violence. They shouted slurs during a torch light parade, talking about taking back our country from those they hated. Another inconvenient truth: if anyone could yell about taking back our country, it should be Native Americans. Study history to learn what the European foreigners and their descendants did to them, herding them on to reservations on land they didn’t want and on which life was barely sustainable. Remember the Trail of Tears? A third inconvenient truth: when Jesus was born in the flesh, he was a Jewish (!) male. How ironic when they also chanted to get rid of the Jews, probably not aware of that fact.
It’s so far from my understanding how much hate they expressed, how those who call themselves Christian and bless people in the name of God could even be considered as such.
There’s so much negativity expressed in social media, especially when it’s anomalous. A person makes a hateful comment without taking responsibility for it; others respond; and, pretty soon you have an angry mob in support or opposition.
What makes me sadder and even more upset are the children who are observing and hearing all of this. What are we teaching them? Think when you act or speak. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Would we be flattered if they imitated our actions and words, our spiteful and critical behavior toward anyone we disagree with? Can we clean up our act and promote the common good regardless of race, background, ancestry, religion?
Do it! For God’s sake! For our own! And especially for our children!
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A17