In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah the words of the Lord leap off the page and challenge us to maintain justice and do what is right and be inclusive. God promises salvation to those of us who do this – who keep God’s words. This promise is no longer just for the People of Israel, this promise is for foreigners – Gentiles too. All people will be invited to the Holy Mountain – our prayer and our sacrifices will be seen, heard and welcomed. This is a huge change of vision and would have shocked the People of Israel – that God might love foreigners too!
In the Gospel, we hear the painful story of a woman and her daughter. There is great suffering and it would seem that both the disciples and Jesus are not interested in listening to her and her needs. Why? She is a woman, she is a Canaanite – a known enemy of the People of Israel. The woman’s respect and persistence pay off as Jesus finally notices her, pays attention to her faith, grants her prayer and holds her up as an example of faith.
In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans Paul reminds the early Christians that the gift and the call of God are irrevocable. In other words, God is with us – there is nothing that can reverse the love and mercy God has for us. God’s mercy is for ALL of us.
The readings today are a real wake-up call for us. As followers of Jesus, our task is to maintain justice, do what is right AND recognize that ALL PEOPLE who obey God are welcome on God’s holy mountain.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption – this feast reminds us of the dignity of the human person. We are called to make sure that every human life is valued – from conception to natural death. At this moment in history it would seem that some people are valued more than others. Those of us who have power in our society make our selections on who has value based on:
Skin color (are they white or not), on language spoken (speak English), on religion (they are not even Christian/they do not believe in God), on gender (she is just a woman), on sexual orientation (they are just not normal), on country of origin (foreigner/alien), job status (they don’t even have a decent job) and economic status (they don’t make much). We make our selection on who has value based on age (too young/too old), health and well-being (they are sick, they are going to die anyway, they are not worth spending money on them), education (high school) and address (they are from…).
We are fortunate to live in Canada – while our country is far from perfect, our leaders are working at justice and doing what is right and at being inclusive. Having said that we have a long way to go. Too many people are considered ‘throw away’, and of little value in our country. Rather than caring for the poor, the marginalized and the immigrants there is a growing movement – extends across the country – just check on Facebook - to ‘keep our country the way it is’, to keep power in the hands of a few and to make sure the poor and the marginalized, stay poor, and marginalized.
We do that by ignoring people who suffer domestic abuse. We do that by ignoring our problems and our divisive attitudes. How are we dealing with: alcohol and drug addiction, suicide, systemic racism, prejudice and discrimination, our care for our earth, creating policies, and practices that will care for our environment and finally, how do we invest in education and health care?
We as Catholics often drag our heels when it comes to maintaining justice and doing what is right, and when it comes to welcoming ALL people. We are often slow to take up the challenge. When we look at the history of our Church we often say one thing and then do another. In other words, we remind ourselves to maintain justice and do what is right, to be inclusive and then we are slow to get behind and practically support initiatives that make a difference. Alternately we make one issue a priority and ignore all the others.
Today, God’s word invites us to wake up.
As I prayed with these texts, I asked myself, who is being silenced or ignored today by people with power? I came up with a list. I invite you to use the Gospel to create your own list. If we need help we can look to our Holy Father for direction and guidance.
Since he became pope, Pope Francis has been highlighting for us groups of people who need our thoughts, prayers and attention. If we were to listen to him, we might discover that we, ourselves, are being mentioned by the Pope as people who deserve the attention of the rich and the powerful.
Each of us is capable of making a difference – for others and for our earth. We might think that what we can accomplish is small and does not matter and yet today we are reminded that our individual actions together can create a wave of change.
I look to the action – the faith of one woman who approached Jesus. She lacked power, she was considered an enemy, worthless, with no voice, and no rights. She was poor and in need, she had nothing to offer, to negotiate with.
She did not have much but what did she have? She had her love for her daughter. She had her courage; courage to do whatever had to be done so that her daughter would be healed. She had faith in Jesus. She would stop at nothing, she would beg to get what she could. She would argue with men – those who held power! She challenged Jesus himself. I may be wrong but, in the Gospels, Jesus changes his mind only twice – when his mother asks him to do something when the wedding runs out of wine and here in this story when the woman asks him to heal her daughter.
What will it take to change my mind, to help me see the suffering of the poor and the marginalized around me? What will it take for me to use my power for the well-being of the poor? What am I willing to do to make sure the people of our community get what they need to live and flourish? Who are the foreigners, the Canaanite women in my community? Who are the peoples most in need of mercy in my community? As this week unfolds what is the one thing I am prepared to do to maintain justice and do what is right, to include all people?
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI