Robert Frost, a wonderful American Poet, once wrote how a little dust of snow, shaken by a crow, from the branch of a Hemlock tree fell lightly upon him and changed his mood of a day he thought he had ruined. It is quite amazing how little things can switch on and off the brightness of our spirits. A smile or frown can lift or lower our beliefs in the goodness of humankind. A phone call or lack there of can make us want to get up and out, or lock us down.
The Eucharist is a “Missioning Service.” He gave His life for us, then to us, and then sent His followers and sends us, to light up this world. As we prepare for our next-weekend’s liturgy we can pray with the graces and lights which come to us as so many little sacraments. We can pray as well with the joy we experience as others receive life and joy by our presence. He came that we might have life. When we leave a person or place, may it be said too, “He/she came that we might have life and we certainly have had more than before she/he came.”
In today’s First Reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear something new, quite different. These are the first verses of the third distinct section and author, hence the name, Third Isaiah. The promises of Second Isaiah have been fulfilled. And now there is to be a new way of living faithfully the Covenant of the Lord.
“Let the immigrants in!” “Do not exclude the foreigners!” The prophet is calling the people to embrace those who honor the One God, the Lord of the Covenant. If those new-comers from other religions observe the holy customs, especially the Sabbath, then God’s justice will be revealed to all of the people. They are welcomed by God and are to be welcomed by God’s people even into the holy temple.
Within the temple in Jerusalem was the Holy of Holies. Few were allowed to enter there. What is beginning through this reading is that the holiness of God was being extended into the holiness of the people of Israel and further to those whom God was attracting to be a new kind of Israel. The “house of Prayer” is the House of Israel, a holy people, renewed and purified through the Exile and now dedicated to following the ancient and sacred customs, especially the keeping of the Sabbath.
The Gospel can make Jesus and His disciples look quite guilty of prejudice and selective charity. A non-Jewish woman, a foreigner, calls to Jesus for help with her sick daughter. Usually we see Jesus responding quickly and with great compassion. Here is something unusual, Jesus turns His back on her. His disciples ask Him to grant her request and send her away, she is a bother. So there is the tension.
Jesus makes His statement according to Matthew’s basic theme that Jesus is sent first to recall, recover, rededicate the people of Israel, they are the lost sheep. The woman makes a gesture of faith in Him to which He replies, continuing the theme. He has come to feed the Jews and not feed the little pets of other houses. She turns Jesus’ words back on Him. Perhaps she could be like a little puppy and just have a scrap. Jesus, seeing her faith, the same faith to which Jesus is inviting His Jewish family, grants her request. The daughter who was possessed by a demon has now been healed through an act of faith.
There is presently in the United States a complex situation about who gets in, and how to make sure others stay out. We are trying to decide whom we want and whom we do not. What should be done with those who have lived here for a long time, but not “legally”. As a nation we have profited from their labors and sharing of their cultures, but they have broken the law! It is a political/economical issue and also a complex religious question. We are known as “The Land of Opportunity.” One of the most historic sites in the United States is Ellis Island in the New York Harbor. Two out of every five American citizens today can trace their family’s entrance into this country through that place of immigration. It is said that this country was built on the backs of those outsiders having become insiders. This has become a huge source of controversy these days.
More personally each of us has our own boundaries and we have constructed our own walls between us (those we have allowed in through our own Ellis Islands) and those we exclude, because, hmm, why?
I grew up in an all white, all Irish, all Catholic neighborhood. I did not know anybody who looked or thought differently from our true and authentic family way. I did not even know there were boundaries. There were just others over there who didn’t matter. They were not wrong, they were not worthy of judging. Jesus was ours and I honestly thought he was quite Irish.
Jesus is asking us to hear the requests of the “Canaanites” of our families, neighborhoods, schools, cities. There are “those” and there are “these”. This is hard Christianity! It is easy to admit the attractive, powerful, wealthy, flattering, and useful immigrants into our personal little islands. Jesus kept crossing boundaries with His welcoming and healing words and touch. Yes, politically, there are many sides to the story. As followers of Jesus there is the in-side where He has welcomed us and He has welcomed “those others” as well. Each of us is invited to be, in our turns, a spiritual Ellis Island who is open for life.
“With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.” Ps. 130, 7
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