All three readings in today’s Liturgy challenge us to open our minds and move beyond the limits most of us live within…whatever they are!
The presenting issue is “Who does God love?” or “Who has access to God’s loving care?” The reading from the Prophet Isaiah starts the reflection for us. He prophesies, “All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, those 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 peoples.” (Isaiah 56: 6-7) While this openness to all peoples was Isaiah’s vision, it was still not a common understanding among the faith community of Israel. Seven hundred years later we see Jesus and the early Church still wrestling with this vision! And, perhaps many of us wrestle with this prophecy today.
Even Jesus, as we see in today’s Gospel story of his encounter with the Canaanite woman, needed to have his eyes opened to a more universal vision of his own mission. When the Canaanite woman with a suffering daughter calls out to Jesus for help, he doesn’t even respond to her! But she is so persistent that Jesus’ disciples beg him to send her away because she’s making such a commotion. Jesus tells her that he didn’t come for her but only for the lost sheep of Israel. Her witty and spirited response to Jesus’ explanation of her unworthiness won over Jesus heart. Jesus realized that people needing and seeking mercy were the true lost sheep. Clearly, a moment of insight for Jesus and a challenge to us.
In the second reading we hear Paul’s anguished hope that all the people of Israel would come to realize that Jesus was the Messiah and believe in him. One of Paul’s greatest joys was bringing the gentiles into the Church. One of his deepest sorrows was that so many of his fellow Jews never realized who Jesus was. A very personal wound that Paul took to the grave.
When we think of God’s love and mercy, are there people we exclude? The readings today challenge us to take down any barriers we might have put up. The question is: are we willing to learn as Isaiah, Jesus and Paul did? May the Holy Spirit help us recognize God’s life in all peoples.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.