August 14, 2011
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Matthew 15: 21-28
In the middle of our conversation with regard to the latest GRP-MILF peace negotiation, somebody suddenly blurted out, “I cannot trust the Muslims.” When he saw my reaction, he said, “Sorry Father. I am just disappointed with the recent atrocities caused by this arm conflict. I just want peace in Mindanao.”
We may not be aware of it, but we need to acknowledge that biases and prejudices, caused by our long and painful history of violence in Mindanao, unconsciously affect how we relate with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We have created an invisible wall of division. This is not what God desires. He wants to bring the whole humanity to Himself. Thus, we need to purify our minds and hearts from any destructive biases and prejudices that bring animosity and division among us.
In our gospel today, it showed that even the disciples were not free from the prejudices and discrimination. When they realized that the woman was not a Jew, they said, “Master, send her away” (Matthew 15:23). Initially, we may find Jesus’ reply to the Canaanite woman inappropriate: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… and it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24,26). His intention was just to test the woman’s faith; but after testing her faith and good intention, Jesus healed her daughter in the end.
In the Scripture, it is clear that everybody has a space in Jesus’ heart, Jews or not. His unconditional love allows him to transcend all cultural, social and religious boundaries and embrace the whole humanity. Real love melts animosity, division and fear. Jesus forgives his enemies, eats with tax collectors and other public sinners, heals the lepers, talks to the prostitutes, and spends a lot of time with the poor and marginalized. He even chooses ordinary fishermen as his disciples. And He continues to love and trust us in spite of our unfaithfulness. If Jesus has one bias to speak of, it is his decision to love everybody without any reservations.
This unconditional love of Jesus is also true to our God the Father. Our first reading from Isaiah shows Yahweh welcoming the Gentiles in His holy temple: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servant.” (Isaiah 56:6). Therefore, as children of God, we are challenged to follow the footsteps of Jesus and recognize everybody as our brothers and sisters without any reservation.
The way relate with one another shows us the need to continue purifying our hearts. We don’t trust an ex-inmate. We look down on someone who are less educated than us. We treat people differently according to their social status. We have lost our trust to people who committed a mistake. We don’t mingle with the poor. We give our undivided attention to people of high status; but not to the needs of our house helpers. We are not aware that our hidden biases and prejudices affect how we relate with others. We are insensitive to their needs. We don’t see their inner beauty. Thus, we don’t see them as our brothers and sisters.
We need to identity our hidden biases and prejudices. It is only in naming that we can tame them. Prayer will help us to purify our hearts. Our gospel challenges us to leave our comfort zones, transcend the walls of division and reach out to a stranger. Let us learn to trust one another, including those who offended us and have asked for another chance.
All of us - whatever is our color, background, religion, culture and social status - are children of God. Only true love can compel us to destroy the walls that separate us from the poor, enemy, marginalized and strangers. Peace is within reach when we begin to accept that God is present in every person; and to respect them is respect the God who created us. We also need to forgive one another and remove from our hearts all traces of distrust. Let us not forget the words of St. Paul, the disciples of the Gentiles, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32).
A disciple asked his master, “When can I say, it is already dawn? Is it when I can say this tree is a mango tree and that one is an acacia tree?” The master said “No.” The disciple asked again, “Is it when I can recognize a cat from a dog from a distance?” The master replied, “No.” “Is it when I can say that the man coming is a Muslim, Christian or Buddhist? The master replied, “No.” Then the disciple said, “Then when can I say, it is already dawn?” The master smiled, “It is when you see a stranger coming and you said to yourself, that’s my brother. Then it is already dawn.”
- Fr.Willy M. Samson, SJ
Cagayan de Oro City
August 14, 2011