Saturday, August 19, 2017

OT XX [A] Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28 

One day, a certain curious person in heaven asked St. Peter “How many Hindus are in heaven?” Peter replied: “No Hindus”. Then he asked: “How many Muslims?” “Not even one,” replied Peter. The man was surprised. He said: “Oh, then, there are only Christians in heaven?” “No, there are no Christians in heaven either,” replied Peter. “How Many Catholics?” “No, Catholics either.” Then St. Peter said, “Heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here, there is no distinction between Hindus, Muslims or Christians for all are welcome in Heaven.”

All three readings today speak of the expansive and universal nature of the “Kingdom of God,” in contrast with the protocol of the day which demanded that salvation should come first to the Jews and then to all the people of the earth. Although God set the Hebrew people apart as His chosen race, He included all nations in His plan for salvation and blessed all families of the earth in Abraham (Gn 12:1-3). By declaring through the prophet Isaiah (the first reading), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” God reveals the truth that in His eyes there is no distinction among human beings on the basis of race, caste or color.  The long-expected Messianic kingdom was intended, not only for the Jews, but for all nations as well.  There is no place for discrimination among God’s children.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 67) rejects all types of religious exclusivity: "Let all the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.  For You judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth, so that Your saving power may be known among all the nations." In the second reading, Paul explains that, although the Jews were the chosen people, most of them denied the promised Messiah. Consequently, God turned to the Gentiles who received His mercy through their Faith in Jesus. In the Gospel story, Jesus demonstrates that salvation is meant for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews by healing the daughter of a Gentile woman as a reward for her strong Faith.

The Gospels describe only two miraculous healings Jesus performed for Gentiles:  the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:10-12) in Capernaum, and the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman which we heard today. By granting the persistent request of the pagan woman, Jesus demonstrates that his mission is to break down the barriers and to remove the long-standing walls of division and mutual prejudice between the Jews and the Gentiles. God does not discriminate but welcomes all who believe in Him, who ask for His mercy and who try to do His will.

 On another occasion too he praised the faith of a pagan; "nowhere in Israel have I found such faith," he said to a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9).  And to his disciples he once said, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38). 
However he also said something that appears opposed to this last quotation.  "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" (Luke 11:23).  But notice that he said "with me."  He did not say “with you.”  Once a group of people get together they begin to be exclusive.  Even a group of disciples can be exclusive in a way that Christ himself would never be.  Notice too that the first statement (Mark 9:38) is addressed to his own disciples and refers to the work of outsiders, while the second (Luke 11:23) is addressed to outsiders and refers to his own work.  There are many who claim to be working with him  -  good Christians, good Catholics  -  but who have nothing of his great mind and Spirit, nothing of his compassion and love, and who may be surprised to know that they are working against him.  
Much good work is done for Christ outside the fold.  In its document on non-Christian religions, the Second Vatican Council stated: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people." (NostraAetate, 2).  In our own time too there are movements without number for the development and liberation of humanity.  If they are not against Christ they are with him, and their followers are our brothers and sisters. 

We need to pull down our walls of separation and share in the universality of God’s love: Very often we set up walls which separate us from God and from one another. It is therefore fitting that we should pray that the walls which our pride, intolerance and prejudice have raised, may crumble. Next, we have to be grateful to God for all the blessings we enjoy. As baptized members of the Christian community, we have been given special privileges and easy access to God's love.  But we also have serious responsibilities arising from these gifts. One of these responsibilities is to make clear to others, with true humility and compassion, that God's love, mercy and healing are for them also because they too are the children of God.

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