Today’s gospel reading confronts us with the issue of acceptance, and especially the challenge of accepting those who are different from ourselves.
We are being urged to examine the boundaries we erect around ourselves – boundaries that are physical, emotional, social and ideological.
We are being challenged to own up to our irrational personal dislikes and prejudices.
And then we are being challenged to set all of that aside as part of our response to God’s call in our lives.
But … of course … we do need to be careful – careful not to fall into the trap of adopting the heretical philosophy of universalism – the belief that all of humankind will be saved, no matter what.
God’s grace is for all … but … this does not mean that there are no boundaries.
In fact, we are called to acknowledge that God does, indeed, set boundaries within which we should be living … and that those boundaries are to be obeyed.
Of course, the boundaries set by God are very challenging … we are bound to fail to meet the rigorous challenge they present … that is why we need to regularly ask for his forgiveness.
Jesus knew and understood the boundaries of Judaism.
He also knew that he had to start with those who shared some (albeit only a little) of that knowledge and understanding, i.e. the Jewish community.
But … Jesus also knew how difficult it would be to broaden the thinking of those whose lives were (and are) dominated by self-created and self-perpetuated boundaries.
The fact is that we all like the tidiness and cosiness of clear-cut boundaries in our lives.
But … here’s some disturbing news … God’s grace does, and always will, challenge those self-set boundaries at every turn.
Let us look at the Canaanite Woman in today’s gospel reading – she was a gentile, i.e. a foreigner (or outsider) to the Kingdom of God – as seen by the Jews.
Her approach to Jesus was an intrusion into the comfort zone of the disciples.
But … she doesn’t only approach Jesus – she nags him.
Earlier in the gospel narrative Jesus had shown compassion to just such an outsider – the Roman centurion who had pleaded on behalf of his servant – but not this time.
This time Jesus is unresponsive.
This time Jesus says that this desperate gentile woman does not fit the mission he came to fulfil.
But … she does not give up … she nags Jesus.
In her absolute desperation she says:
- Jesus, you are my only hope!
- Jesus, you (of all people) cannot turn me down!
- Jesus, you are the only one to whom I can turn!
- Jesus, I may be different, I may not fit the pattern, but I still recognize you for who you really are!
Then … of course … Jesus acknowledges great and true faith.
Jesus, who had recently fed 5000, and who would soon feed another 4000, gives the Canaanite woman the few precious crumbs she is asking for.
The Canaanite woman did not come to Jesus to barter with him.
Her plea to Jesus was a plea for mercy;
a plea for undeserved help;
a plea clothed in nothing but humility.
The Canaanite woman’s faith … the faith of an outsider who didn’t know the rules of Judaism … broke the boundaries of isolation and exclusivity.
The Canaanite woman’s faith enabled Jesus to model his great commission to us all …
Go and make disciples of absolutely everyone who will listen, and who will respond in faith.
So, let us pray for the strength to set aside our sense of what is ‘perfect’, and let us come to Jesus, our Lord and our God, in humility.
Let us open our hearts and minds to the challenges and opportunities he sets before us and just stop thinking that we have all the answers …
because we don’t!!!!