God’s Invitation And Mercy, Without Boarders!
Readings: 1st: Ish 53, 1. 6-7; Ps 66, 2-3. 5-6; 2nd: Rom 11, 13-15. 29-32; Gos: Mtt 15, 21-28
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Sancto, in Dorado, San Juan Puerto Rico, of the Spiritan International Group of Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church draws our attention to God’s invitation and mercy to entire humanity, which is definitely without borders. It suffices to note beforehand that this does not mean “Universal Salvation”, least one slips fast into the heresy of “Universalism.” “Invitation and mercy without boarders” simply means that each and every one of us (without exception) has equal opportunity of the mercy of God if we respond accordingly to His invitation. Therefore, the church through all the readings of this Sunday presents to us a God whose invitation and mercy is not the sole or exclusive right of any individual or group; a God whose invitation to mercy reads: “It is for all” – Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, Blacks, Whites etcetera; and a God whose mercy like water does not discriminate or have enemies.
While reflecting on today’s readings, I recalled an old TV commercial. In it, people were walking along a busy and broad street with different sizes and shapes of umbrella in anticipation of imminent rain. Eventually, there came a powerful wind and down pour, too powerful for small and weak umbrellas. But only one man had a very big umbrella, the size of a room. With a wave of hand he invited all others whose umbrellas had succumbed to the power of the wind and down pour. In a fraction of minute, many threw away their umbrellas and took shelter in the man’s. Also, another ad from a particular political party reads: “Our Umbrella is big enough to contain all of us, there is room for you in here, come in right away!” Indeed, the invitation and mercy of God is large and strong enough to restore all of us, but it is for only those who are ready to throw away their, small and weak umbrellas (that is their pride, shame, and disobedience), in order to come to Him. Are you ready?
In the first reading, Isaiah makes the mind of God known. In addition to the “faithful Israelites”, “foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name…these will I bring to my holy mountain.” I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.” In this, God is fostering the “ecumenical spirit” which has to begin with praying together. Imagine a prayer house made up of Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Traditional religionist, Pagans, Israel and Hamas, America and Al Qaeda, Churchill and Hitler, Nigeria and Boko Haram, Iraq and ISIS, and lots more praying together to God. For us it seems difficult, but with God, it is not because, he designs and controls all of history. So, when we put this reading into both historical and political perspective, we simply encounter the truth that God designs and controls all history in order to display the glory of his mercy to all of us. However, the only condition he requires is that we must attach ourselves to Him, serve him and love him.
In the second reading, Paul also strikes on the same note as did Isaiah. In this reading it suffices to note that when Paul says: “Mercy to all”, he is not saying that God will save everyone, rather, that His mercy is available to all those who will respond accordingly to his invitation. This is the reason he tells us: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling!” (Phil 2, 12). God has played his part by extending his invitation to all and making His mercy available in abundance. We must play our own part by responding accordingly to his invitations. If we do we “pluck” his mercy. We must not forget the truth that the “Jews” are the beloved of God. He is sovereign in their salvation and it is not because of any merit passed on from the patriarchs, but because God chose Israel and that choice was, and forever will be irrevocable. The gentiles are also favored and considered worthy of the good news. When Paul says: “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, he means that because God hardened the Jews, the gospel has now gone out to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11-12, 15. 28). Irrespective of the reason, the fact is that God has made them a promise also. He has counted us among those worthy to take refuge under his umbrella, and as potential candidates for salvation. And this promise stands because: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it…?” (Nub 23:19; Mal 3:6). The lesson from this is that when one person or a people become disobedient and rejects God, it becomes an advantage to others. In spite of Israel’s rejection of God, it has not made God change his mind towards loving them. Right now the good news is that the same mercy flows for all of us, and we are all potential recipients of God’s mercy in this period as the gospel go out to the nations.
Today, Jesus’ journey to the territory of Tyre and Sidon is amazing and fascinating, but it leaves much to be desired in the light of His former instructions to His disciples: “Do not go to Gentile regions…Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-8). So, what did he go there to do himself? One could possibly say there was a paradigm shift in Jesus’ view of the gentiles. Today’s gospel goes further to illustrate the universality of God’s mercy. However, that Jesus was initially hesitant to listen to the woman perhaps must have been a tactical way of testing her faith. In order words, in spite of the fact that God is ready to show us mercy unequivocally, he requires something from us. Something Jesus himself described as: “a faith as small as the mustard seed” (Mtt 17, 20). I am sure the faith demonstrated by this woman surpassed the expectation of Jesus. Let us tell ourselves the truth here. Who among us would be called a: “Nigger”, “White Monkey”, “Black Monkey”, “Gringo”, “Bushman”, “Americow”, “Sand Monkey”, “Abo” or “Brit” that will not angrily and quickly leave the scene. But this woman endured this derogatory calling of name and persisted in her plea to Jesus for mercy. Far from being offended by Jesus, instead, she was inspired by Him to ask for what she desired. For this, Jesus commended her faith in a way that no Jew was ever commended. The lesson this woman teaches us is simple! Though God may test us in seemingly strange and unpredictable ways, he will not turn away from his promises to help those who call on him in their time of need. And he will never turn his back on true faith. This is the type of faith that our first reading refers to when it says: “Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to love and serve him.” Jesus found that faith in this woman after making her pass through the “acid test”. Like this woman, each and every one of us in a certain way is in need of God’s mercy. Somehow we have been disobedient and so, as Paul recounts in our second reading: “God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.”
My dear friends, one of the greatest requirements in order to respond accordingly to the universal invitation of God and to share in his mercy is faith in his son Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus is close to us. Are we going to let him pass us by without insisting on having his mercy? We must take our opportunity, grab his clock right now, kneel down, cry if you will, shout until he hears you, and shut your ears to all the insults, discard your small and weak umbrella, and insist on entering into Jesus’ large umbrella of mercy. Does our Lord give you humiliations to bear? Perhaps it seems that he rejects your prayers! When he humiliates you, remember and imitate the example of this “Canaanite dog”. Say to him now: “Lord Jesus, I will never let you go unless you bless and show me your mercy” (Gen 32, 22). When you feel the burden lifted off your shoulders then join the Psalmist in saying: “Let all the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you…because your faithfulness, love, and mercy endures forever!” (Ps 66, 4; 100, 5).
Peace be with you all!!