So welcome to Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church!
Now, what does it actually mean to be a Catholic Church?
Catholic means universal. Universal means everyone. Everyone is included.
It dates back to St Cyril of Jerusalem in the early 2nd century. It was the first recorded use of this term catholic. And I guess it was very different from the Jewish community, which was ethnically geographically focused on one particular community. You have people like Isaiah who are predicting and prophesying that there will come a time when the borders of Judaism will extend beyond just one people and one nation, but that didn’t really happen in the 1000 years of that First Temple, Second Temple period.
But once Christianity came onto the scene, people began to move beyond just the boundaries of one ethnic group, and so the church began to include people from other nations, other people, people like us, people that weren’t in that original family. And so this invitation began to spread and people began to be attracted to the message of Jesus. And so people began to realise that this church was no longer bounded by one particular kind of people. It was indeed a Catholic Church. It was a universal church.
But for us, I think there is this, this continuing kind of sense – well, we’re okay being part of the Catholic Church. But do we actually make others welcome? Do we actually allow others to have space and room at the table?
It was a question that Pope Francis addressed when at World Youth Day 2 weeks ago at the opening mass on the Thursday night, when the Pilgrims are all welcomed together for the official start of the World Youth Day pilgrimage. Pope Francis threw aside his prepared homily for the occasion. And he spoke to the young people, inviting them, reminding them that everybody is included in this Catholic Church. And he got the young people to cry out. You know who is included everyone. And in Spanish it’s todos, todos, todos. Everyone is included. Everyone is welcome.
But I said that wasn’t something that was very Jewish and its outlook; it’s a kind of experience. So even though Isaiah makes that declaration that they will come; there will be a time when it’s not just the Jewish people, people who are part of that covenant family, who will be able to come to the temple, come and worship the foreigners too, will be welcome. And he just simply says as long as they keep the Sabbath, as long as they follow the basic teachings and rules of the Jewish community. They all be welcome. To this temple to be a place where all can pray.
It will be a House of prayer. But again, that’s a challenging place to find ourselves well. What is the criteria? What does it mean to be part of this family? And it seems it’s something that Jesus himself is struggling with.
In the few passages before we have our gospel today, he’s having these confrontations, as he often does with the Jewish leaders and the Pharisees and the scribes, and they’re saying to him, you know, your disciples aren’t doing the right thing cause they’re not keeping the Sabbath. So this very rule that Isaiah sets as being necessary for membership. And Jesus is getting really frustrated with these people and there’s all this exchange and dialogue that’s taking place. And it seems that one of the reasons he’s leaving from this Jewish area to go to a Pagan area – is to get away from all of those narrow minded people who these boundaries, that people, who would say no, there’s only one way to be Jewish. One way to be part of the family of god’s people.
And then what happens? He is confronted by this woman, an outsider, a foreigner, someone who is completely outside of the Jewish community. This Canaanite woman, one of the traditional enemies of the Jewish people, cries out to him and it calls out. For mercy and healing.
And we want Jesus to respond to her. We want Jesus to be the good guy, but he’s not. He’s being kind of weird in this gospel and we have to kind of admit that that it’s a strange, frustrating sort of gospel to read because, you know, it’s really lovely when Jesus comes. Straight to the rescue. We just as we cry out with our prayers and we want Jesus to answer them straight away. The first what did he do? He just ignores her. He just silent. There’s that says nothing. He says not a word to her. And it’s only the disciples who just seem to be frustrated. Just want Jesus to do something. Wave your magic wand. Shut this woman up. There seems to be the disciples, and I think sometimes we get that we feel the same frustration when you know someone at the front of the church just keeps on talking and you it’s like, will you just shut up! All of those kinds of experiences are there in that.
And then there’s this exchange. She just comes and falls at the feet of Jesus and she cries out: Have pity on me! Even then, even then he doesn’t respond straight away with a gesture of kindness, a gesture of mercy. What does he say? No, you know, it’s not appropriate to give food to the dogs.
To feed the dogs the food for the children. And we don’t. Know whether he’s got a smile on his face when he says this. We don’t know whether he’s just having a bad day, and in some ways it’s kind of nice that that Jesus can sign of have a bad day. It kind of takes the pressure off ourselves to be. Perfect at every stage of our lives, but in this process, in this moment, he’s just there and he, he makes this awful insult to this woman, comparing her to a dog. And yet she’s able to respond, and yet she’s able to make that great rejoinder to come back to him and say yes.
But even the dogs were able to eat the scraps. The four from the children’s table. And in that moment, of course, his heart is melted, or again, we have to kind of project onto this gospel cause it doesn’t answer the questions that we have, which is so often the case with the Gospels. When you read them closely, when you study them and pray with them. You were often left kind of begging the question. What is actually going on in this scene? And I think they are designed to be like that. You know, they don’t answer all of the questions that we might have. We should have these questions. It’s good to struggle with these texts. It’s good to really grapple what is going on, what might else, what else might be there?
And then Jesus responds to her by healing her daughter, providing relief to in that situation. And then remember last week when Peter is there on the lake and he’s walking on the water and doing this extraordinary thing, but then his eyes drift off Jesus. Then he begins to sink and he cries out to Jesus. What does Jesus say to him? Man, you have such little faith. And it’s interesting, that we see the contrast from Peter’s little faith last week. Jesus says to this woman, you have great faith.
And it’s this foreigner, this Pagan, this woman, that is addressed in this way in comparison and contrast to Peter’s little faith. The eventual leader of the Catholic Church, and now this woman, this outsider, becomes the model of what it means to have great faith.
Sometimes we need to have our eyes open. Sometimes we need to see and look at those situations where we prevent people from being part of our Community, where we’re not welcoming, where we’re not encouraging, when we’re not allowing the todos, the todos, the todos of all people, everyone to be part of our church, where we exclude and say no. You’re not welcome here.
Often not explicitly, but just in our attitudes in the way that we are. This woman teaches us that the way of God, the way of faith, sometimes needs to challenge God. Sometimes the woman’s faith is necessary to make Jesus rethink what are the boundaries, what are the limits of this community, and eventually, of course it will spread and it will be able to include people like us, people that were not welcome at that time, but now we embrace the gift of God.
Let’s allow the Lord to challenge us and to see who are the people that we continue to exclude and who are those women of great faith that might need to challenge us and call us into a new direction and a new focus to allow everyone to allow the church to truly be the Catholic Universal Church that it was called and created to be.