Stranger Danger

Friday, August 11th, 2017

This weekend’s readings are powerful reminders of how we should welcome all! The first reading has the prophet Isaiah speaking about others not like him, writing about “foreigners who join themselves to the LORD.” He is articulating the universal call to holiness for all people. The psalmist sings, “O God, let all the nations praise you!” and even Saint Paul describes himself as “the apostle to the gentiles” — that is, people not of Jewish decent, which Paul was. So, we have a very multinational and multiethnic theme this Sunday, which finds the Gospel story of Christ and the Canaanite woman a little shocking. Given how open the tradition of acceptance seems to be, we have our Lord refusing at first to help someone!

The Gospel tells us of a Canaanite woman approaching Jesus and his apostles and, though she is not a Jew, asking for him to heal her daughter. Even Christ had to put aside his hesitations. I don’t think Christ is being sinful or mean, I think he is being quite human. In our own modern world we continue to struggle with what a pluralistic society looks like. I don’t think those of us who want strong borders or who want to curtail immigration are racists or cruel. Security is important. Even Christ seems leery of someone from a different culture. The challenge here is to model how Christ treats the Canaanite woman. He compliments her faith and gives what she asks for — a healed child. Christ broke down his all too human defensiveness of the stranger and related to her.

This is big. The apostles and even Christ’s hesitancy to help her don’t come out of nowhere. The Canaanites and Israelites had been slaughtering each other for centuries. The language throughout the Bible describing each other is pretty brutal. We may think we have scrubbed clean our inclinations to dehumanize, but I’m not sure.

I currently have an outstanding parking ticket (I’ll pay it today, promise!) I am not described and dehumanized as an “illegal,” though I broke the law. Our brothers and sisters who have broken laws to come to our beautiful land are not “illegal,” they are undocumented, and before we decry this nuance in language as “political correctness,” understand that words matter. Jesus, in his humanness, confused helping a rival nation’s person as “dogs” and it isn’t until he gets to actually know her and empathize with her that he realizes she and Canaanites are just like him and Israelites.

That’s powerful stuff. So, in our times when the very real and complicated issue of immigration is easily boiled down to terrible simplicities, like calling people “illegal” or decrying those who care about safety as bigots, we look to our Savior’s bravery when this thirty-something kid from Nazareth took the brave step to welcome the stranger. Let us pray for the courage to mirror that.

I’ll be seeing you,

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