There is a fellow who keeps sending me e-mail jokes. Some of them are good, many are not. I find some of these jokes to be offensive. They put down people on welfare, new immigrants, people seen as the ‘Freddy Freeloaders’ of society. I think he might be a clone of Sarah Palin or of one of our local politicians. The victims of many of these ‘jokes’ are men and women seen as outsiders, on the fringe of society, those different from ourselves. I think we all have difficulty dealing with some thing or some one we see as different, out of the ordinary.
The Jewish people did and do see themselves as different, set apart. In the letter to the Romans we hear this of the Jewish people: they are the children of Israel, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises, to them belong the patriarchs. They were and they are the people of God.
The people of Israel jealously protected their specialness as God’s Holy People, by excluding anyone from outside its borders; they were the “foreigners.” Foreigners were to be avoided, in some cases, not even to be looked at or spoken to. I read somewhere that travellers returning to Israel would shake the dust from their sandals lest their soil be contaminated by the soil of a foreign land. Often in the Scriptures there is the tension concerning who belongs and who does not. Jesus was a person of his own time and culture. He was brought up learning to avoid mixing with the outsider, the non Jew. When he sent the 72 disciples out in pairs to preach, they were not to go into any Samaritan town. They were to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
There was a long standing conflict between the Canaanites and the Jews over land. Canaanites were the enemy, the outsiders. They were considered lesser beings, dogs.
When this outsider approaches Jesus he ignores her, it’s as if she is not even there. She keeps calling for his help and her calls attract a crowd. The disciples are embarrassed, uneasy and ask Jesus to do something. Jesus lets her know he is here for his own people not for the likes of her. It wouldn’t be right to take the children’s food and give to dogs. She is aware of the hostility of the Jews toward her people just as she is aware of the hostility of her people toward the Jews. But she is desperate, she has a sick child and she will accept any insult if this man can help. She reminds Jesus that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. This does it for Jesus. With great admiration he says, “Woman great is your faith, let it be done as you wish.” It was the woman’s faith that finally overcame the barrier between Jew and Canaanite, changing Jesus’ attitude toward this outsider.
This gospel challenges us to consider the barriers we may have in our own lives and make us question who we want to keep out of our space, whether it is our personal space, our neighbourhood or our country. Do we put up barriers to keep out peoples from other cultures, other faiths, other social standings?
There is a song in the musical South Pacific – you have to be taught how to hate and to fear. We all have our own prejudices and biases. We can be uncomfortable or resentful of the different, the strange and the stranger.
From listening to the news or reading the paper do you find we are being lured into resentment, hostility to new comers to Canada? We hear stories of people who abuse our social systems or our immigration laws. Do we buy into the rhetoric that creates resentment toward the stranger, the outsider?
Jesus set aside his learned prejudice toward the Canaanites and reached out to help this desperate mother. As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we can pray for ourselves and for each other for the grace to recognize the barriers in our own mindsets and try to overcome these barriers and open our minds and hearts to the outsider, the stranger, those different from ourselves.