Getting Ready to Pray
Robert Frost, the wonderful American Poet, once wrote how a little dust of snow, shaken by a crow from the branch of a hemlock tree, fell lightly upon him and changed his mood of a day he thought he had ruined.
It is quite amazing how little things can switch on and off the brightness of our spirits. A smile or frown can lift or lower our beliefs in the goodness of humankind. A phone call or lack thereof can make us want to get up and out, or lock us down.
The Eucharist is a “Missioning Service.” He gave his life for us, then to us, and then sent his followers, and sends us, to light up this world. As we prepare for next Sunday’s in-person or virtual weekend liturgy, we can pray with the graces and lights which come to us as so many little sacraments.
We can pray as well with the joy we experience as others receive life and joy by our presence. He came that we might have life. When we leave a person or place, may it be said too, “he/she came that we might have life and we certainly have had more than before she/he came.”
Often in the Scriptures, there is the tension or theme concerning who belongs and who does not. Jesus himself stood in the middle of this tension all of his public life. Israel jealously protected its sanctity as God’s holy people, by excluding anyone from outside its borders; they were the “foreigners.” They were to be avoided, in some cases, not even to be looked at or spoken to.
In today’s First Reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear something new, quite different. These are the first verses of the third distinct section and author of the book of Isaiah, hence the name, Third Isaiah. The promises of Second Isaiah have been fulfilled. The people of Israel have been freed from their exile and have returned to their holy land and especially their re-consecrated temple. Now there is to be a new way of living faithfully the Covenant of the Lord.
“Let the immigrants in!” “Do not exclude the foreigners!” The prophet is calling the people to embrace those who honor the one God, the Lord of the Covenant. If those new comers from other religions observe the holy customs, especially the Sabbath, then God’s justice will be revealed to all of the people. They are welcomed by God and are to be welcomed by God’s people even into the holy Temple.
Within the Temple in Jerusalem was the “holy of holies.” Few were allowed to enter there. The belief was beginning through this reading that the holiness of God was being extended into the holiness of the people of Israel and further to those whom God was attracting to be a new kind of Israel.
The Gospel can make Jesus and his disciples look quite guilty of prejudice and selective charity. A non-Jewish woman, that is a foreigner, from an ancient enemy of the Jews, calls to Jesus for help with her sick daughter.
Usually we see Jesus responding quickly and with great compassion. Here is something unusual: Jesus turns his back on her. His disciples ask him to grant her request and send her away, she is a bother. So there is tension.
Jesus makes his statement according to Matthew’s basic theme that Jesus is sent first to recall, recover, rededicate the people of Israel. They are the lost sheep. The woman makes a gesture of faith in him to which he replies, continuing the theme. He has come to feed the Jews and not feed the little pests of other houses.
She turns Jesus’ words back on him. Perhaps she could be like a little puppy and just have a scrap. Jesus, seeing her faith, the same faith to which Jesus is inviting his Jewish family, grants her request. The daughter who was possessed by a demon has now been healed through an act of faith.
Each of us has our own boundaries and we have constructed our own walls between us. Those we have allowed in, through our own Ellis Islands, and those we exclude, because, hmmm, why?
Politically, there are many sides to the story. As followers of Jesus there is the inside where he has welcomed us and he has welcomed “those others” as well. Each of us is invited to be, in our turn, a spiritual Ellis Island who is open for life.
With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption