More and more often these days, I notice that I feel like a stranger in my own country.
For instance: I don’t know how to make sense of the presence of neo-Nazis, even on the outer-fringes of political discourse in the US. Nor do I feel comfortable with the rapidly growing practice of ‘doxxing’ – the use of social media to identify, vilify and punish those with whom we happen to disagree.
There’s an ugliness to America these days, particularly in the political arena. Maybe it’s always been there, and I’ve just been oblivious. Or maybe, like the frog-being-boiled-one-degree-at-a-time, the viciousness has crept in bit by bit…each new disrespectful statement diminishing our sensitivity to the next.
If the tone of American discourse tempts me to despair, however, there’s this to consider: It’s not a uniquely American problem, nor only a 21st century one. That much is made clear by Sunday’s scripture passages, each of which discloses at least some measure of intolerance and xenophobia on the part of the people of God.
In the first reading, Isaiah extends a welcome (of sorts) to ‘the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD’… as long as they ‘keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant.’ Those who fly right, he says, ‘them I will bring to my holy mountain.’
In the second reading, it’s St. Paul’s turn. As the self-described Apostle to the Gentiles, he’s happy to offer the Good News to a bunch of foreigners…but it’s also pretty clear they’re not his first choice: ‘I glory in my ministry [to the Gentiles] in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.’
But the gospel passage provides the most intriguing insight. Jesus, we’re told, is traveling ‘in the region of Tyre and Sidon’ with his disciples. In other words, they are the foreigners in this episode… and they’re approached by one of the locals – the Canaanite woman. Even so, the traveling band seems to be treating the woman rather rudely. Jesus initially is silent towards her, and the disciples are actively engaged in driving her away. Then comes this troubling exchange:
…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.”
What I notice, as the story continues to unfold, is how the woman flips the situation to her advantage – using a rather simple tool: She refuses to take offense.
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
I’m not sure if that’s how I would have reacted to the Master’s harsh words. Truth is, I’m probably more inclined to retaliate – to trade insult for insult, accusation for accusation…especially when current events conspire to make me feel like a foreigner in my own land.
Even if I don’t speak the words, I’m typically quick to think of opponents – all these bad-actors, from all across the political spectrum – as some breed of ‘dog.’ The labels come all-too-easily: Skinhead. Internet Troll. Racist. Liberal. Fill in the blank.
But as I travel alongside the Master and the Canaanite woman through Tyre and Sidon this weekend, I wonder if perhaps I’m being invited to try a different sort of label on for size:
Child of God.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.