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The Catholic call is universal; it goes out to everyone.
August 20, 2011
The Universal Call
Sunday, August l07, 2011; Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Canaanite Woman: “My daughter is tormented by a demon. Lord, help us!”
Sounds kind of harsh. What’s going on? Is Jesus just annoyed? The disciples certainly are. Get rid of her, they say. She keeps pestering us!
But Jesus didn’t just get rid of her. There was something significant presented by this woman that he wanted to address. It had to do with who he is and why he had come into the world.
The region of Tyre and Sidon, what is today the country of Lebanon, was at that time populated by many Canaanites. The Israelites and the Canaanites, then, were neighbors and knew a bit about each other. In fact they shared a long and bitter history. When the Israelites first came into the Promised Land the Canaanites were already there. Sound familiar? There were centuries of conflict, not just over the land but over their spiritual identities. The Canaanites were pagan. Their chief god, Baal, was worshipped with temple prostitution and at times child sacrifice. At one point King Ahab of Israel married a Canaanite woman from Sidon, Jezebel by name, who killed the prophets of Yahweh and tried to establish the religion of Baal. She was so notorious that even today a shameless, wicked woman might be called a “Jezebel.” Whenever I hear the term I think of the church lady in Sanford and Son and how she referred to certain unchurched ladies as Jezebels. So there was a long and painful history between Jews and Canaanites, so bad that Jews referred to gentiles in general, and Canaanites in particular, as dogs. The Canaanites knew it, and knew why.
So, when this Canaanite approached Jesus with her request, and he answered “it is not right to throw the food of the children to the dogs,” it was no big surprise. She knew the history, and the baggage she had brought into Jesus’ presence. This is why he could not just send her away. He could not ignore that history, that old antagonism, because it was at heart a contest over fundamental truths about God and man. Jesus was testing the woman, to see if she would rise above the inherited prejudices and put her faith in the living God. And she did, with considerable wit: “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s tables.”
Many gentiles of the time were familiar with the monotheistic faith and high moral code of Israel. They were used to feeding on such spiritual scraps as they picked up from the Jews. Jesus, in granting the woman’s request and rewarding her faith, anticipated the day when the gentiles would receive more than scraps; a day when the fulfilled and purified faith of Israel would transcend the ethnic and cultural boundaries of the Jewish people and be given as a feast to the whole world.
However, we cannot partake of this feast unless we transcend our own boundaries of culture, family, and personal preference. Many have rejected the gospel because they would not give up their old gods, their old ways, their old sins. The spread of the gospel has not been easy or sweet, but full of toil, reversals, and sacrifice. This is still the case. The Christian faith is called “Catholic,” or universal, not because it is everywhere accepted, but because all are invited. And anyone of any background, race, language, culture or personal history who has a sincere desire to find the truth and submit to it, is welcomed by Christ with great joy, and love.
To seek the truth and submit to it …
On that basis Christ has accepted us. On that basis we are to accept one another.
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