This morning’s service was one of the most inclusive I have attended in a long time. I won’t name the church or the priest, who was a visitor, for his protection, as the freedom with which he treated the mass texts would land him in hot water with the bishop, although, interestingly, I doubt Pope Francis would bat an eye.
The gospel story (Mathew 15:21-28) was about the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to save her daughter who is tormented by a demon. At first, Jesus ignores her and the disciples want her to be sent away, yet she persists in her request. Jesus finally says that he has come only for the children of Israel, that it isn’t right to throw the children’s food to the dogs. She answers that even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table and Jesus says that her daughter will be healed because of her faith.
I think, though, that what the woman exhibited more strongly than faith was maternal love. I’ve been in the situation of having a sick daughter and know what it feels like to pursue anyone or anything to help your child, even if you have to go against society’s norms to do so. A woman in that culture would not be permitted to approach and talk to a Jewish man, much less follow after him, calling out and begging, but she did it to save her beloved daughter.
In Matthew’s account of the story, even Jesus is a bit slow to recognize that God’s love is universal, that this woman and her daughter are as precious and valuable as Jewish persons are. The priest made this point clear, not only through his homily but also throughout all the prayers of the mass, weaving in references to God’s love for all beings and our own call to love and care for every person without regard to any difference of belief, ethnicity, race, body size, ability, or any other characteristic.
I so appreciated the message and the elegantly consistent way in which it was woven into the mass. That I knew that he, like the Canaanite woman, was bending the rules to do so, was a satisfying delight.