One of the many things I love about Jesus is that he not only comforts the afflicted, he also afflicts the comfortable. I really felt it as I read and reflected on the gospel of today. See, I have grown comfortable with the Jesus who always listens to the pleadings of the poor and the needy. I have become so comfortable with the Jesus who can’t allow the people to go hungry without giving them something to eat. I have been comfortable with the Jesus who is very compassionate, understanding, forgiving, loving, and caring for those who come to him for help. I have experienced it myself.
Today’s gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) however makes me feeling uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me to have Jesus playing indifferent to the Canaanite woman who came to him for help. ‘He answered her not a word’, as Matthew would describe Jesus’ reaction towards the desperate person calling out for his help. It took him few ‘naggings’ from the woman, and a pleading from his disciples, for Jesus to ‘give in to her request. But even then, when Jesus finally spoke to the woman, his words were not even a consoling or comforting words. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,’ Jesus said to her. I could only imagine the woman pleading more earnestly: ‘But Lord, it’s not about me! It’s about my daughter! I loved her so much, and I wanted to help her but it is beyond my power to cure her. I can’t do anything for her, but I believed in you. You can do something for her!
But to add insult to injury, Jesus said: ‘‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.” In the Semitic language and expression, calling someone a ‘dog’ or a ‘house-dog’ is a highly derogatory term. In a way, it is looking down at someone. Today, we can equate this to our current issues and events saying: ‘You are an asylum seeker. You’re not one of us. You’re not from here. You jumped in the queue. It’s not fair. Thus, I can’t allow you to enjoy what we are enjoying in here.’
But thank God, the particular story didn’t end up Jesus driving the woman away or turning her down. Thank God the woman didn’t give up on her prayers and on her faith. Otherwise, we would have a good scriptural basis for being a racist. Thank God, though Jesus was caught up with racism (Note: I am not saying Jesus is a racist), he didn’t make it an obstacle for him to grant to do something great and to appreciate the faith of the people who come to him.
As I have mentioned above, this gospel makes me a bit uncomfortable. Because, I was once caught up with racism or I really was acting as racist before.
When I arrived in the seminary in Melbourne in 2007, I met this seminarian from Wagga, he is now a priest…He is just absolutely black, shining black. That’s the first time I saw a person as black as he is in person, and I just can’t hold myself, I laughed at him. Thank God, he made light of that awkward situation. He laughed with me too, and I realized he was very funny. I remember when we had our photo taken, he said: ‘I must smile to show my teeth, to have at least something in me seen in this photo.’ And we all laughed about it.
I just felt guilty of judging people by their skin color when in God, we are all one. There is no racism in God. In him we are all equal and none of us is more equal than others in his eyes, though it doesn’t mean we are to be the same too. In God, it doesn’t matter what or which country do we come from, or what skin color do we have, or what language do we speak. For God what matters is where we are going to- and I hope and pray we are going in the same direction- heaven, eternal life, happiness forever. This must be the basis of our discernment and self-examination everyday- and constantly reminding ourselves to stay on the track leading us to life.
I just wanted to share with you this poem written by an African kid, and which was nominated by the UN to be the best poem in 2006. The title is: ‘And you call me colored?’
It goes like this:
When I born, I black
When I grow up, I black
When I go in Sun, I black
When I scared, I black
When I sick, I black
And when I die, I still black
And you white fellow
When you born, you pink
When you grow up, you white
When you go in sun, you red
When you cold, you blue
When you scared, you yellow
When you sick, you green
And when you die, you gray
And you calling me colored ???
And here’s the rub here: When we judged others, we are actually judging ourselves more than we judge the other person.
So God is not a racist. And as sons and daughters of God, we must not put categories, label, or stereotype towards other people too.
Going back to the gospel however:
In showing that particular attitude towards the woman, which seemed to be an attitude of indifference at first, Jesus was driving at two very important points: That the house of Israel- that is the chosen of people God would realize how vital their role is and how ‘special’ are they in the story of salvation and the other point Jesus is presenting here is that we are to persist in our prayers.
First point: Matthew wished to stress in here the dream of Jesus for his Jewish audience to realize how they have taken for granted God’s offer of salvation, who has come to them not just as a prophet but really a God in person. This is what St Paul was lamenting about, in the Second Reading today (Romans 11:13-15,29-32) . St Paul said: “Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean?”
God has called us to be sons and daughters. What a privilege!
Are we acting like his sons and daughters, as brothers and sisters who love, and care for each other?
Or we are acting as siblings who are rivals in everything?
The second point Jesus wanted to drive at in the gospel is that we are to persevere in our prayer. God always listens to our prayers, even if at times he seemed to be deaf to our prayers, or he seemed to have misheard our prayers because we didn’t get what we are praying for. Like the Canaanite woman, we just need to be humble (kneeling before our Lord), persistent (that is with hope and patience). Patience is a difficult thing. It’s not easy to acquire this virtue. As someone says: “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, seldom in a woman, never in a man.”
One way to check if you are a patient person is to examine yourself after every Mass Sunday when you leave the Church. If you say: ‘The Mass was beautiful only that it is 15 minutes too long’, or if you say ‘The homily is good, but it would have been much better if it’s not 5 minutes too long,’ then perhaps there is a great need still to grow in the virtue of patience.
And like the woman in the gospel we need to acknowledge our littleness. We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to accept that there are saints and sinners in us. And like the woman we need to present this self-acceptance to the Lord. And if we do this, the amazing things happens. God gives in to our request. Not that we bribe God, it is just that God wants us to be truly who we are, no hypocrisy before him. The woman taught us another great lesson here that the ‘dog’ in us (i.e. our littleness, our vulnerability, our neediness, our helplessness at times) can even be God’s opportunity to do something great not only for us, but through us.
As we continue our celebration let us thank God for calling us to be his sons and daughters and for allowing us to be beneficiaries of his mercy regardless of who we are, what we have done, what language do we speak and what’s the colour of our skin. At the same time, let us resolve to be sensitive towards one another, and welcoming as Jesus does, though at times he may afflict us rather than comforting us. Amen.