Today’s readings: Is. 56, 1.6-7; Rom. 11, 13-15.29-32; Matt. 15, 21-28.
God is truly a God of surprises. The more we subject Him to our human frame of mind, the less we can grasp the depth and meaning of His presence. He has no boundaries. His love is unconditional and never subject to our whims or bound in any way to race, religion or colour.
Isaiah today speaks of a common house of prayer for all peoples and Jesus in today’s gospel concedes that he found a great faith beyond the boundaries of the chosen people.
The issue of the pluralism of religions has been emerging as one of the major challenges for the Christian faith in the wake of modern times and of our new awareness of a rainbow of faiths that colour the globe.
There was a time when we spoke in terms of the one and only true religion, making of Christianity an exclusivist religion and considering all other religions as false and threatening to the true faith.
The gospel of Matthew we are reading throughout this year was written specifically for the Christian community, consisting mainly of converts from Judaism. It was a community with a tendency to close in upon itself and become exclusive.
But Christianity was never meant to be exclusivist, and exclusivism was never meant to be the trademark of the Christian faith, which basically encapsulates the belief in God’s universal will to save mankind.
If we believe in God who created man in His own image and likeness, then we cannot narrow down the possibility of salvation merely to a set of beliefs or to a particular tradition.
In the first reading, Isaiah says: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples”. And what Isaiah highlights in particular as the trademark of true believers in God is “care for justice, acting with integrity”.
We need to rediscover the mystical aspect of believing, because mysticism unites where theology divides. In his book Something There. The Biology of the Human Spirit, David Hay recalls the wisdom of Charles Peguy, who was a great lover of Chartres Cathedral.
When World War I broke out, someone expressed the fear that the cathedral might be destroyed during the hostilities. The loss would be unbearable, replied Peguy, but even more unbearable would be the disappearance of the spirit that built the cathedral.
Unfortunately, we are still people of the temple. At times, our con-cern when we speak of belief concentrates more on the façade of content rather than on how that translates concretely in works of justice and mercy.
This is what comes out loud and clear from today’s gospel incident in a territory alien to the centre of the Jewish religion, and to a woman considered a stranger to the core of what made one belong to God’s chosen people.
The pride of our ministry comes from openness to embrace diverse categories of those whom we may even label as modern pagans, rather than from jealously and erroneously clinging to some sort of preconceived identity. In the name of identity, we risk not just our relevance in today’s culture and society, but even the real significance of the gospel message.
We should steer clear of defending our identity from a fundamentalist perspective.
The so-called church of Constantine signing concordats with the state and seeking the safeguards of its rights as an institution is past history. That served only to make of the Church a ‘perfect society’ within society. Today this is sheer anachronism. It is a very myopic vision of what the Church is called to be in the world.
Now things have changed not just in terms of adaptation to the times, but in order to truly respond to God’s call to save all and everyone. The Church’s challenge and mandate is to blend with society in order to be salt and light, not to fear the world in terms of a siege mentality.