Jesus and the Stranger

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Gospel: Matthew 15: 21-28 – “The Canaanite Woman”
Given in Spanish and English at Our Lady of the Light on August 17, 2014

 Jesus and the Stranger

We usually think of Jesus walking the highways and byways of Israel.  But today we find him traveling as a stranger on the other side of the border in the region of Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon.  He has probably gone there to escape the threat of King Herod who has recently murdered his cousin, John the Baptist.  He needs time to think.

So Jesus is outside of his home country in Lebanon for a while.  His disciples, who are with him, soon forget where they are.  They think they are the homeboys and the local woman who approaches is an intruder.  When this woman will not give up her persistent petitions for assistance to her daughter, who is beset by a demon, the disciples ask Jesus to get rid of her because she doesn’t belong.  She is an annoyance, a burden.

In the beginning Jesus responds just as the disciples have asked.  He says to the woman that it is not right to take the food that belongs to the children and give it to the dogs.  But this woman knows something the disciples have forgotten, that God is the Lord of all and that everyone is the object of his Fatherly love.  She responds very humbly that even the puppies under the table receive the crumbs that fall from there.

I cannot hear this Gospel today without thinking of the situation we have been experiencing with the refugees who are arriving at our border in great need.  The majority lately have been children and mothers who are fleeing here from terrible violence and threats in their home countries.  The refugees come to our border without food, without clothing, without being able to speak the language—totally lost.  I can hear the disciples’ voices in the words often spoken by our countrymen who shout “Get rid of them!  They are not our problem!  These foreigners don’t deserve our charity!”

Of course we need to protect our borders from armed invasions.  Certainly we need a well-regulated process to receive those who would like to come here.  But there are times when we need to follow the Gospel more than rules.  There are times when what people share as children of God is much greater than that which divides us.  There are times when the command of God to love one another transcends all the laws we make.

Thanks be to God we in El Paso understand these truths much better than many in our Country.  Many of us live on both sides of the border.  We have family and neighbors in Juarez and in all of Mexico.  We would prefer to build bridges much more than walls.  We cannot see those who live on the other side as “aliens”, as though they come from another planet.  Many of us in our lives have experienced the loss of everything, including our dreams and we have lived in necessity.  Yes, it is much easier for us here in El Paso, a city of immigrants, to receive those who come to us as brothers and sisters!  We have less than many but we share what we have.

But if we understand this situation better than others then we also bear a great responsibility.  We need to show by our example and our words how Christians respond to these refugees at our border.  We have this responsibility if we ourselves wish one day to belong with them to a Country in which everyone is an immigrant, but no one is an alien—the Kingdom of God!

Most Reverend Mark J. Seitz, DD
Bishop of El Paso

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