Mercy Without Border

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the LORD: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed. The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants— all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

Matthew 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her 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.

In recent years, the talks of building walls, travel bans, Brexit, isolation of refugees in camps, such as Calais “the jungle” (France’s notorious refugee camp that was eventually dismantled) and the off-shore refugee camps in Australia, or renewed threats of nuclear arms race have been reverberating on air and on line. One can’t help but feel a little claustrophobic as some of the most powerful nations on earth decide to raise walls and wars rather than reconciliation and peace.

In this week’s Gospel reading, Matthew offers a glimpse of the possibility of healing divisions in our world. In a stunning image of faith meeting mercy, the encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus reveals that God’s mercy is indeed restorative and transformative to the human heart and soul. It is crucial to note that many boundaries have been broken in this encounter. The Canaanite woman, an outsider and outcast in the eyes of the Jews, dares to approach Jesus, a Jewish man, to beg for the healing of her daughter. Her action is unconventional and counter-cultural, to say the least. In addition, as the woman cries, “Have mercy on me”, she understands that Jesus is “sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”; however, she persists that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:24, 27). “The Canaanite woman signifies repentant souls … [who] lean wholly on God’s mercy. […] Only the humble and faith-filled are rewarded with spiritual healing” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Notes). Her herculean faith not only empowers her to traverse beyond her fear of rejection and shame but also allows her to risk everything she has to reach out to Jesus with complete trust. When Jesus exclaims, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish”, her daughter is instantly freed from a demon’s torment and restored (Mt 15:28). Her faith literally moves mountains! Indeed, Jesus teaches that one only needs faith the size of a mustard seed to be able to “say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20).

On the other hand, Jesus has also taken a huge risk in reaching out to a Canaanite. Jesus’ action not only shocks His Apostles but also transcends their understanding, and ours, of His mission on earth: “to bring good news to the poor”; “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind”; “to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk 4:18-19). Jesus is not only sent to save the “House of Israel” but all those who is in need of God’s mercy; namely those who are walled in by discrimination, oppression, poverty, segregation, or illnesses. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, ample examples of Jesus traversing cultural and other artificial boundaries demonstrate the depth and breadth of God’s mercy. For instance, the Israelites during Jesus’ time believed that illnesses and any birth abnormalities, such as leprosy or blindness, were signs of God’s punishment for sins. Despite these beliefs, Jesus heals the leper (Mt 8:1-4), the paralytic (Mt 9:1-7), the woman suffering from haemorrhages (Mt 9:20-22), and the two blind men (Mt 9:27-29). Jesus chooses to stand with the outcasts in order to challenge the Israelites’ understanding of the Mosaic laws. Certainly, his intention is not “to abolish the law or the prophets” but “to fulfil” (Mt 5:17). His action transcends the borders set by these traditions and demonstrates that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as [the Israelites] were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so [the Gentiles] have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to [them] they too may now receive mercy” (Rm 11:29-32).

Indeed, God’s mercy can never be defined by human-made boundaries. God’s mercy heals and transforms the ugliness of human divisions of “us” versus “them” – Jews versus Gentiles; citizens versus migrants; rich versus poor; men versus women; white versus black; Christians versus Muslims; and so on – into genuine solidarity. It is evident that God’s mercy is more powerful than any human-made borders. Those who “maintain justice, and do what is right” shall rejoice in God’s house: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, […] and to be his servants, […] I will […] make them joyful in my house of prayer; […] for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:1, 6-7).

Therefore, let us pray for courage to move beyond the chasm of “us” versus “them” and walk with Jesus in our collective mission of healing human division – releasing the captives, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the oppressed – so that God’s name may be glorified. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations”, Amen (Ps 67:1-2).

Posted: August 20, 2017

Susanna Mak

Susanna深信,信仰需要在日常生活中顯露出來,尤其是當與別人相處時,需要分擔對方所面對的困境、抉擇和挑戰。她有着很多不同的身份:女兒、姐姐、朋友、姨姨、妻子、老師、校牧、終身學習者和偶爾替《生命恩泉》寫作的作者。在每一個身份當中, 她努力為天主的愛和希望作見証。 她在多倫多擔任高中教師近二十年,擁有英語、學生讀寫能力、青年領袖活動、校牧組等經驗。 她是多倫多大學商業和英語學士,教育學士,亞省Athabasca大學綜合研究碩士,以及擁有多倫多大學Regis學院神學研究碩士證書。她對於成為《生命恩泉》寫作團隊的一份子, 深感榮幸。 Susanna has a deep conviction that faith needs to be manifested in daily life, particularly, in one’s encounters with others as well as amidst dilemmas, choices, and challenges. She strives to be a living sign of God’s love and hope as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, teacher, chaplain, life-long learner, and occasional writer for FLL. She has been a high school teacher in Toronto for almost 20 years, with experiences in English and literacy, youth leadership initiatives, the Chaplaincy Team, to mention a few. She has a B. Comm, B.A. in English, and a B. Education from University of Toronto, an M.A. in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, and a Graduate Certificate of Theological Studies from Regis College, U of T. She is humbled by the opportunity to be part of the FLL Writing Team.

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