BEYOND BARRIERS AND BOUNDARIES
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Last Friday night, IX-1344 crashed at Kozhikode. Before patients could reach hospitals, teams of doctors, PPEs donned, were ready to take on the worst. They were surprised when the patients arrived: the first responders at the crash site had stabilised injuries using cardboard and other material they could find. People queued up outside blood banks late at night, braving the heavy rains and the risk of covid. In other cities, people arranged food for people on diverted flights. There was zero talk of ethnicity/ language/ religion; that night humanity reigned!
Such attitudes and gestures show us that we can go beyond barriers and boundaries.
In the gospel, we have the striking example of the Canaanite woman, who overcame all barriers to approach Jesus.
She had three strikes against her: she was a woman (in Semitic culture, it was inappropriate for her to approach a man); most likely, she was a widow (else her husband would have approached Jesus); she was a foreigner and a gentile. Three barriers which should have prevented her from approaching Jesus, but did not!
Further, she had to overcome three behavioural barriers from Jesus: his indifferent silence; his statement about his mission “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; and his rebuke about not throwing children’s food to the dogs.
Nothing could deter the woman. Her persistence persuaded Jesus to go beyond barriers and boundaries—gender, ethnic, geographical, and religious—to cure her daughter.
This incident is not just about the persistence of the woman.
Though the woman is a Canaanite, she addressed Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David”. Matthew presents her as a disciple! He thus emphasises that discipleship is not restricted to Jews; it is open to anyone who believes in Jesus. Matthew affirms that God’s grace, too, is not exclusive/ restricted. All that one needs is an open heart to receive his grace.
This is the thrust of the gospel text, especially when we read it with the first and second readings.
Isaiah (first reading) announces God’s intention to extend Israel’s privileges to all foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, who love the Lord and become his servants. He yearns to be in relationship with all. His house is a house of prayer “for all peoples”.
Paul (second reading) emphasises that God’s mercy is for all, whether Jew or gentile.
In an age of growing communalism and nationalism, we need this reminder of God’s universal love; more important, we need to live this reminder.
Do I reach out in love to all people irrespective of gender, caste or class, race or religion? How will I imitate God to go beyond barriers and boundaries? (By Fr. Vinod SDB)