Last Sunday was the particularly challenging gospel about Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman. It is fraught in our culture at this moment for a number of reasons (one of which I will return to in a day or so), but the one worth focusing on right now is the deadly challenge the gospel throws down before the face of racism (most recently on display in Charlottesville and in the miserable response our Racist-in-Chief made to it–and which his millions of Good White Christian defenders made in response to his response.
A reader alerted me to this fine homily by Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ:
In a few minutes we’ll profess our faith in the form of the Nicene Creed, and one of the things we’ll profess is our belief in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. One. Catholic. The word “Catholic” comes from the Greek katholikos meaning “according to the whole” or “universal.” We believe, in other words, in a Church that is everywhere, with room enough for people of every race, culture, and tongue. We also believe that this diverse, Catholic Church must also be one Church. Where many in our world see difference as being a cause for division, as Catholics we see—and profess as essential to our Christian faith—the possibility of unity in harmony with diversity.
While in the beginning of our relationship with God He chose a particular people, He never intended for the relationship to forever be exclusive. He tells us in our First Reading that “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to Him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming His servants…them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” When we consider our own ancestry, we realize that at some point in our family history, someone answered the invitation to come to the Lord’s mountain, to reject the worship of idols and false gods and instead worship the one True God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to be one of us, and to die for us. What other god has done such a thing for mankind?
St. Paul tells us of his difficulties in spreading the faith in his time, since the old divisions between Jew and Gentile still ran strong. He refers to himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles” and tells the Romans that they “have now received mercy because of their disobedience,” meaning his own people, the Jews. He tells us that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” meaning that God will not take back what He has offered in Christ: it was first offered to Paul’s people, but it’s been largely rejected: now it’s being offered to the Gentiles, where it’s being embraced. Yet Paul tells us that he sees God’s mercy at work, because once his people see that the Gentiles—who have never obeyed God—are being shown mercy, they might realize that God is still offering them the same gift. In other words, God desires to show mercy to all mankind.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Incarnation. The Son of God comes among us as a member of a particular people—the Jewish people—but this is not the remarkable thing. The remarkable thing is that He became a human being at all. What the Incarnation teaches us is that God is one of us; He is not interested in the “us” verses “them” game that the world so often wants to play. Before the Incarnation it was God and His people verses the world, yes: He made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and no one else. But when God became a human being, when He became one of us, we all became, at least in our humanity, His people. It is now God and man united against the common Enemy, Satan, and any who choose to serve him.
We see this in our Gospel today when a foreign woman comes to Jesus asking Him to free her daughter from a demon. He says something that initially comes across as callous: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We might be tempted to think He was telling her that He wasn’t here to help her “kind”, but only His people. She pleads with Him and He says, shockingly, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Is this our Jesus, the Jesus we know and love? Yes, it is: but look closely at what He is doing. Dogs were associated with lawlessness, with the wilds: He is saying that the Bread come down from Heaven is for the “children”, meaning those who are Children of God. He’s searching her heart for a sign that she has the faith of a daughter, rather than the superstition of a pagan, because only then can His Father be a Father to her. And she says, both humbly and brilliantly, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” She calls Him “lord” and “master”: she has, in her heart, come to believe that He is God. She’s seen that not only is He the Messiah of His own people, but He is her Savior as well. He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but was not sent only for them. “Woman,” He says, “great is your faith!”This woman knew that the Savior of one people is the Savior of all people, that even though she did not belong to the People of God, in Jesus was the living, breathing image of God’s desire to embrace all of humanity, to extend the Covenant to all races, to all the descendants of Adam and Eve. When we look at the events of Charlottesville, when we see the Nazi flag rise like a red ghost from the ash heap of history, when we hear racist rhetoric, as Catholics we naturally are taken aback: such beliefs not only run contrary to our Catholic faith, to the unified and diverse reality of our Church, but they run contrary to the very person of Christ Himself. He who’s Spirit gave the gift of tongues to the Apostles at Pentecost so they could speak to all people. He whose Father so love the world—the whole world—that He sent His Son to save it, to die for it. He who said at the Last Supper—as He will say at our altar today—“TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT, WHICH WILL BE POURED OUR FOR YOU AND FOR MANY…”
In addition, here is a fine homily by the extraordinarily gifted Deacon Steven Greydanus. I give just a bit of it here:
“I’m not racist, I’m colorblind,” some say. That may sound enlightened, but think about it. If you’re colorblind, you’re blind to racial discrimination. If you were colorblind in 1955, you could be on a bus where all the black people were sitting in the back and you wouldn’t notice. And you’ll be just as blind today to more subtle forms of racism all around you.
What we need, according to a 2016 document from the U.S. bishops’ Domestic Social Justice office, is a “fuller understanding and acknowledgement of the lived reality of people and communities of color.”
In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people who don’t experience racism assume that it’s largely a thing of the past because they’ve only talked about it with other people who don’t experience it. It’s amazing what a profound step toward healing it can be just to listen to someone different from you, to hear their side.
And then, as we grow in awareness of the problem, we need to own it. It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s my problem. It’s your problem. My neighbor who hasn’t yet recognized the scope of the problem — that’s my problem. “A conversion in our own hearts and an insistence on the same in others,” Archbishop Chaput said.
We must reject hatred and violence. Even hatred and violence toward haters, even toward Nazis. When someone hates you, it’s the easiest thing in the world to hate them back. This is the collateral damage of racist hatred: the temptation to hate the racist. “Punch Nazis,” a lot of people are saying today. Martin Luther King, Jr. was onto something when he said darkness can’t drive out darkness, and hate can’t drive out hate. Only the light of love can drive out the darkness of hatred. We must love and forgive even people who drive vehicles into crowds.
This is not politics. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God give us the grace to embrace it fully, to be transformed by it, and through it transform our communities and our world.
Sadly, the bulk of the comments on the homily at NCR only demonstrate how very far we have yet to go. But Steve is a bright light and I am grateful to know him.