August 15, 2020
© Daniel Ernst stock.adobe.com
What Faith You Have
A Reflection from the Christian Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
In the wake of the tragic and utterly destructive explosion that destroyed much of Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4, 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron exhibited what it means to be a National Leader with a sense of global responsibility. The President visited the devastated people in the streets not only offering official aide but the most important gift one person can give another, personal concern and heartfelt empathy. He embraced the people in the street not with slogans and opportunism but with a broken heart revealing his personal care and his Nation’s willingness to aid and comfort the afflicted. Indeed, it is important to meet and engage the people we speak and hear about before we make our judgements based on prejudice, fear, and misinformation.
Shocking enough, Jesus exhibits the prejudice and fear so many people have of so-called “foreigners” and strangers. In the Gospel for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 165: 21-28), Jesus “rejects” a woman pleading for help because she is not a member of the community. She belongs to another people. She is a person of another religion, in a word, “one of those people.”
Mathew’s rendition of the story is less harsh than Mark 7: 24-29 but the same reaction of Jesus strikes us as mean and cruel. What are we to make of this episode?
First, if we recoil at the reaction of Jesus to the woman who is an “outsider,” we may want to pause and ask ourselves if we do the same. Do we call people names? Do we reject others because of race, gender, orientation, or national origin? Do we name diseases after them? If we don’t like such language on the lips of Jesus, why would we ourselves ever speak in the same way to or about others?
Second, Jesus might very well be exposing the prejudice often embedded in the hearts of even his own disciples. We need to face the truth of our fear of others, our embedded prejudices, and our tendency to judge and condemn others based on misinformation or cruel political rhetoric.
The woman in this powerful and disturbing narrative is a person of exceptional courage. She pushes back at Jesus confronting the disciples and us to change of heart and mind. Perhaps she saw in Jesus an opportunity to transcend the meanness, nastiness, and rigidity that sometimes infects our religious attitudes, political discourse, and social behavior. She claimed her dignity and spoke up for the sake of her afflicted daughter. Jesus responds to her with amazement praising her courage.
All across the World, people are standing up and speaking out for the rights and dignity of others. Parents cry out to be reunited with their children, children cry out not to be a pawn against the desire for wealth rather than health, prisoners cry out for justice, and more and more of us are standing and marching for the human rights and God-given dignity of all peoples. There is a rainbow of people shining in our streets.
Like that woman of old, break into the halls of injustice, open the hearts of those too well adjusted to their fears, witness to the needs of others, and have the courage to stand up, speak out, and do something wonderful for the powerless and the voiceless.
Can you hear Jesus now rejoicing in your courage? As he said to the woman who came to the defense of her daughter, so Jesus now says to you as you seek to transcend your fears, “What great courage you have.”
Blessings to you Beloved Community for causing Jesus to rejoice with amazement in the here and now of life as it is.