I worked in the Covington Tribunal for 10 years…
applied the laws of the Catholic Church to matters needing adjudication.
Most of my time was spent processing annulment cases;
assessing the sacramental nature of failed marriages;
issuing officially binding declarations
regarding freedom to marry according to Church teaching.
The one thing that caused my heart great pain
was seeing how badly some people treat one another…
seeing how ugly human interactions can become for whatever reason.
I saw, over and over again,
just how much the human spirit can digress to it’s lower nature….
where reason gives way to animal-like responses…
where the mind is disordered by twisted and evil thoughts
and the heart is seething with hatred and hostility
and behavior is directed toward causing pain, causing harm,
lashing out in meanness, anger, spite, resentment, frustration.
Destructive hatred is currently at the fore
as citizens of our country lash out at anything and anyone
that/who presents a challenge to their way of thinking.
This isn’t something new.
Human history is full of inhumanity….
prejudices so intense
entire ethnic groups have been all but annihilated, snuffed out.
The Jews of Jesus’ time hated the Canaanites.
They were considered to be sub-human and were treated accordingly.
The Jews didn’t necessarily seek to eradicate this group of people
but they found little value in their existence
and considered them a contamination to what was clean.
Jesus found himself in the middle of this ethnic clash
when a Canaanite woman, which was the only thing worse than a Canaanite man,
sought him out.
She had nothing to loose.
The disciples were typical Jews,
formed in the habit of filtering what their senses perceived.
This woman was no human being…this was an animal.
A mosquito to be swatted…a fly to be shooed away.
And sure enough, Jesus verified their worldview.
He called the woman a “dog”.
I can almost see a “high five” being passed among like-minded friends.
If the incident would have ended here…
if Jesus would have walked away at this moment
we would all be justified
in maintaining our biases and prejudices.
We might even find divine support
for annihilating other human beings.
But the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ insult.
It plays through to a different end.
Jesus allows himself to be bested….
to loose in a match of wits with this nobody.
The woman does not return insult with insult.
She does not play the “retaliation” game.
And she comes away, being blessed by God….
her daughter is restored to health.
This outcome had to be disturbing to the disciples….for that matter….
to all Jews who eventually threw in their lot with this new Christian Way.
And I can’t imagine it was easy
for ingrained prejudices and biases to be easily discarded.
Jesus redraws the line…
corrects a long-held misconception
reveals the truth about God’s relationship to humanity:
all human beings are acceptable to God,
respected by God, loved by God.
All human beings are worthy of God’s attention,
have a share in God’s bounty.
And the only distinction between human beings of any importance
is not color of skin, or family of origin, or nationality
or biologically determined traits.
The only distinction is one of faith:
the presence of faith or the absence of faith.
Over and over again, Jesus guards against faulty conclusions.
Faith in God has its reward
but an abundance of material blessings is not one of them….
freedom from the laws of nature is not one of them…
immunity from the imperfections of creation is not one of them.
The ultimate reward for faith in God is salvation….eternal oneness with God.
And faith does have immediate rewards in the here and now:
courage to face suffering,
trust in the presence of God
hope when all seems hopeless
…and last but not least,
one of the immediate rewards of faith is right relationships with other human beings....
life-giving relationships with spouse, children, neighbor….
and with human beings living on the other side of the world.
The battle of faith in today’s gospel
is not fought in the heart of the Canaanite woman…she has faith.
The battle occurs in the hearts of the disciples.
Can they accept and believe in a God who loves someone they can’t….
who shows concern for and gives attention to
someone they were taught to despise, hate, reject?
While working in the tribunal I often had this thought, this dream.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one day I walked into my office
and there was no work to be done, not because I was efficient,
but because no one was seeking an annulment
because there was no need to do so.
And if that day ever happened
and I sought out the reason for this welcome turn of events
I believe I would find one common factor, one explanation: the presence of faith.
True faith in Jesus Christ is contrary to and completely overcomes
anything and everything that is divisive of and destructive to our human relationships.
Another way to say this:
true faith in Jesus Christ completely overcomes….sin!
You may dismiss me as being an unrealistic dreamer,
accuse me of being unaware of what’s going on in the world
and of living with my head in the clouds
….but this dream is God’s, not mine.
Today’s prayer: “O Lord, in Your desire to overcome the sin in this world, give us a new faith in Your Son Jesus Christ…a deep faith, a strong faith, a life-giving faith. Remove from our hearts all that keeps us at odds with our neighbor. Save us from the darkness of evil by the light of Your truth. Amen!”
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I worked in the Covington Tribunal for 10 years…