Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

A neighborhood woman was well-known for her faith and for her boldness in talking about it. She would regularly stand on her front porch and shout “Praise the Lord!” Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout back, “There is no Lord!!” One day, the woman found herself on hard times and she prayed to God to send her some help. Standing on her porch she shouted, “Praise the Lord! God, I’m having a hard time and need food. Please send me some groceries.” The next morning the she went out on her porch and found a large bag of groceries and shouted, of course, “Praise the Lord.” Immediately, her atheist neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn't.” This only excited the woman more. Clapping her hands she said, “Praise the Lord! God not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!”

We heard in our Gospel, “Jesus said to [the woman] in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.” Our Gospel passage today is the flip side of the coin that we heard in last week’s Gospel – and both of them are a reflection on the nature of faith. Last week, of course, we heard the dramatic story of Jesus walking on water and inviting Peter to do the same. Peter, as we recall, was strong in his faith walking on water with Jesus – for a moment – but soon found himself letting doubt creep back in and sinking in the Sea of Galilee. It was the story of a disciple challenged through faith into a miraculous moment; but letting doubt and fear cancel out the power of his faith.

But this week, we are on the flipside. This week we hear a story about someone who was not a disciple. In fact, this woman was a Canaanite, a group hated by the people of Jesus time. Like Peter, she was also challenged. But she confronted that challenge with determination and perseverance; and she did not lose the miraculous precisely because of the courage of her conviction. Her daughter was healed.

One side of that coin is an example of what doubt can do to our faith; the other tells of the transformative power of a strong and courageous faith.

But, our Gospel today also challenges us in another way. It begs a simple question of us – who does God love? Is God’s love available to all; or is it the property of a select few people or groups or sects?

Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography tells how, during his student days, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, their caste system. He had seriously considered becoming a Christian and attended church one Sunday morning hoping to talk to the minister about converting. On entering the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have their own caste system,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”

Have you ever felt excluded? I think it is a rather common thing for most people to have experienced exclusion at some point in their lives. Some of us have felt it more than others and many have felt it more strongly. Were you ever the last one picked for the baseball team and it seemed no-one wanted you? Did you feel snubbed by some group because they felt you weren’t good enough? Were you not invited to a party because you didn’t seem to fit in? Were you excluded by others because of your economic status; or the color of your skin; or your liberal or conservative politics? I think that many of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives for any number of reasons.

Well, this can happen in a faith context as well. The belief that God's blessings are limited only to certain people has been around for a very long time. Every people and culture has a handful of such prejudices and myths - from the myth of the Jews as the only beloved people of God to that of no salvation outside the Catholic Church, from the prejudice of the caste system in India to that of racial superiority in Nazi Germany, from the myth of the superiority of men over women to that of the superiority of Western culture over all others. Such a belief was alive in the society in which Jesus grew up.

But, through this intervention of a complete outsider, the Canaanite woman, we become aware that God’s love and mercy are available to everyone. That through perseverance and faith, God’s power can be active in everyone’s lives. It calls to mind the hymn, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”

A man arrived at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asked his religion and the man answered, "Episcopalian." St. Peter says, "Go to room 24. But be very quiet as you pass room 8." A woman arrives at the gates of heaven and answers the same question, “I’m a Baptist.” St. Peter says, "Go to room 18. But be very quiet as you pass room 8." Finally a third person, who is Jewish, arrives and hears the same thing, "Go to room 11. But be very quiet as you pass room 8." Curious, he asks, "St. Peter, you have said the same thing to each of us. Why must we be quiet when we pass room 8?" St. Peter says, "Well, the Catholics are in room 8, and they think they're the only ones here."

We can be tempted to think that we have cornered the market on God; that we are the only ones to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. That God loves us and only us. But, God poses to everyone the same invitation He poses to us, “Come and draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.”

As we gather today for this Eucharist, let us all have hearts that hunger for the miracle that is Christ in our lives. Let us thank Him for the gift and grace of our Catholic faith and let us be persistent in asking God for what we need. There is a wideness in God’s mercy; in His love and in His invitation. Let us pray that all my discover the treasure of faith that God has given to us. And our persistence, our courage and our faith will pay off in the end as the Lord says to each of us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

May the Lord give you peace!

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