The context of the first Reading from the book of Prophet Isaiah was the post Babylonian exile. Isaiah had prophesied that the return of the exiles from Babylon after 70 years of captivity would be something new that was to supersede the exodus. “Thus says Yahweh… do not dwell in the past, or remember the things of old. Look I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth. Do you not see? I am opening up a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Is 43:14-19).
In the first Reading, (Is 56:1.6-7), the Jews had returned from Babylonian captivity and God, through the mouth of Prophet Isaiah, gave the returnees the new code of conduct. No one is to be excluded or ostracised from the house of God – the foreigners, castrates, etcetera. The people of Israel were to build an inclusive nation. God was going to accept the offerings of all those who call upon his name; for he is God for all people and his house is to be known as a house of prayer for all the nations.
In the second Reading, (Rom 11:13-15.29-32), Paul stated that the conversion of the non-Jews to Christianity was a way of luring the Jews to the true faith. A faith that is no longer a prerogative of the Jews alone but belongs to the whole of humanity.
The Gospel, (Matt 15:21-28), presented us with the encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman whose daughter was sick. Some of Jesus’ words while addressing the woman might sound offensive to many people of our time, for instance when Jesus said, “’It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’” However, this saying might have been a common parlance in Jesus’ time or said in jest by Jesus, or a way to test the woman’s persistency. The woman refused neither to be stereotyped nor allow political correctness to deter her soul’s yearning, for she believed that Jesus was the Messiah before putting her request to him.
She had addressed Jesus as “the son of David” which was one of his messianic titles. Through this encounter it became clear to us that one becomes a member of God’s house by faith not merely by biological descent, (first Reading). Jesus told the Canaanite woman “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted. And from that moment her daughter was well again”. The salvation brought to us by Jesus belongs to everyone: Jews and non-Jews alike. Jesus demonstrated this by sending his disciples both to the Jewish towns, (Mt 10:5-6), and to the non-Jewish towns, (Lk 10:1-12).
Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross is an invitation for everyone to come to him. Peter said in the Acts of the Apostles that he had come to the realisation that God has no favourites, but that every person who believes in God is acceptable to him. Peter came to this awareness after the Holy Spirit fell on the family of Cornelius who was a Roman centurion and hence, not of a Jewish descent, (Acts 10: 44-46).
The faith that makes us members of God’s House is sealed by Baptism. For among the baptised, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, between circumcised and uncircumcised. There are no strangers, barbarians, slaves or free men, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col 3:11).
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp