Tag Archives: Gentile

3RD SUNDAY IN LENT, 2018

I know very few people who appear to be incapable of rage. Some of them came to my mind as I was preparing this homily early this past week. But most of us, I think, have experienced the frustration of dealing with a person or an incident that just doesn’t yield to rational negotiation. We get “fed up to here”, as the expression has it, with a situation that has become unacceptable. We can, therefore, easily imagine Jesus lashing out, striking in every direction, yelling for all to hear, “Get out of here, all of you! You know as well as I do that this is the house of God, my Father’s house. And you are dishonoring it, using it for your own selfish, sinful gain! Get out of here and stay out!”

We feel Jesus’ righteousness and we cheer him on.

But why did St. John and the other three Gospel writers choose to include this event in their writings about Jesus — especially this early in their manuscripts? (John’s gospel, for example, has 21 chapters, and this incident occurs in only Chapter 2.)

Many reasons have been suggested, but my favorite is that Jesus was saying something about himself and the Jewish religion of his day that was very important to him. What he is saying is that he is not merely trying to purify what already exists in Jewish religion by, for example, driving out from the temple the merchants and their wares; rather, he is declaring that the temple and all its functions and rituals have been replaced by himself! He is the “place” of true worship now! The temple had been built by human labor and through it people sought union with God. But now, God had built the temple — the very person of Jesus — and only by entering him can anyone experience the fullest possible union with the One he called Father.

Analyze the context of the story: Jesus angrily confronts the money-changers. Their business was to take the Gentile money that worshipers brought with them and, for a fee, to exchange it for coins that were acceptable for use at the temple. In attacking this practice, Jesus was abolishing the ban against non-Jews and making it clear that everyone is welcome in the new temple that was himself!

No favorites, no exclusion, no separation — just people making up but one family united in him.

He drives out the cattle and the sheep, the animals that would be sacrificed in the temple worship. Another revolutionary statement not from his mouth but from his mind and his actions: “Animals are no longer necessary at the altar. You can commune with the invisible God with and through me,” he was telling them. His perfectly truthful and loving life would incite hatred and vengeance in evil hearts, and he would soon enough be slaughtered like a lamb — not as a human sacrifice to a presumably offended God, but to satisfy the blood-thirst of those who hated him and wanted him destroyed. His very presence was both a threat and a rebuke to them.

They asked him to justify what he was doing and saying among them — things they had never heard before. Who do you think you are?, they asked. He gave a puzzling answer: “Tear this temple down, and I will rebuild it in three days.” Looking back, we realize that he was referring to his coming death and resurrection. They thought he was a madman, talking that way.

The passage ends disturbingly, not with the “good news” we are accustomed to hearing. Instead we are told that he could not bring himself to trust the people who had come to believe in him. Why? Because he knew what was really in their hearts. Their faith wasn’t deep enough: it was merely amazement at what he was saying and doing — a momentary, fleeting Yes to what he was offering to ease the burden of their shabby lives. It wasn’t the solid commitment, including the possibility of suffering, he was looking for.

There could well be something of them in us, too. We do believe; but in what areas of our lives are we not really sure that Jesus is the way?

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20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

Some of the answers that Jesus gave to people asking for his help seem unkind, almost cruel; what we just heard is one of them. To understand what was going on between him and the distraught mother, we have to realize that she was a Gentile, therefore looked down upon by the Jews. At first he responds like the Jew that he was, telling her that if she were a faithful Jew he’d honor her request immediately. But since she’s the equivalent of a heathen, for him to help her would be like giving to the dogs the food that should go to the children.

The woman is obviously a bright lady; she doesn’t let Jesus off the hook; she reminds him that the house pets are allowed to eat the food that falls off the family table. Jesus likes that response, and likes her. He grants her request.

Bible experts tell us that in Jesus’ time, that little exchange of clever words would not have sounded insulting at all. It was a common form of conversation — a “thrust & parry” of words and ideas. Jesus was not being uncaring or unkind; he was simply drawing out the conversation in order to make an important point for the woman and us to hold onto.

Remember that she had addressed him as “Lord” and “Son of David” — which means that, even though she wasn’t a Jew, she did have faith in him as a person who seemed to know God well. She expressed faith in him and what he could do for her and her daughter. She’s a believing Gentile — maybe the first he’d ever met. No matter what nation or family or religion she came from, there was undeniable faith in her heart. She may not have recognized God in the temple, but she did see God in the person of Jesus! That had to be a gift of the Holy Spirit.

We Catholics have come from a very rigid tradition in which there was a standard pattern for religious belief and practice for us all. If we traveled to Paris, Peoria or Pakistan, the rules and the rituals would be essentially the same. It was a good feeling to be so united.

But things are different now, as we are fond of saying, and — I would say — much better. We interpret the scriptures differently; many theologies are invited to shed light on the one ancient faith; the creativity and customs of a variety of peoples give uniqueness and individuality to worship. No longer do we regard as enemies to be avoided those who pray or act differently from us. Instead, we recognize them as sisters and brothers in whom the same Spirit of Love and Truth is gently at work.

Some Catholics pine for the “good ol’ days” when everything we Catholics did and said was cut & dried and meant to remain forever unchanged. Not so today. As the famous spirituals say, “The Spirit is a-movin’!” And we must pray, as Jesus always did, not to become narrow-minded and short-sighted. And to recognize true faith and goodness in whatever form they appear.

God calls us to build unity in our families, our communities and our world, not by all wearing the same spiritual clothing, but by praising the Spirit of God in every life-giving word and work that comes from anyone, anywhere!

Be at peace! God loves you wildly exactly as you are!!