Few if any of us have remained unmoved by the unsettling experiences that took place last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. The specter of Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists, marching at night with torches blazing and chanting, “Jew will not replace us!” is incomprehensible. In an interview given days after the horrendous weekend, the Rabbi of the local Jewish congregation in Charlottesville, shared how in his fear that his sanctuary might be burned in a latter-day Kristallnacht, he reverently retrieved the Torah scrolls from the sacred Ark, least they be desecrated. It is indeed hard to comprehend that in 2017, such terror should be elicited in good people of this fair land.
The moral cancer at the heart of these days of terror was the sin of racism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out: The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design. (# 1935)
Down through the millennia and to this very day, the Church has stood as a prophetic voice for the inherent and intrinsic dignity of all the members of God’s family. While sadly, at times in history, some of her ministers have failed to forcefully proclaim this inalienable truth, it remains at the unwavering doctrinal core of our foundational ethic. We are all made in the image of the Divine and, hence, each and every one of us possesses the potential of radiating that divine goodness to others.
God’s Holy Word that is set before us this Sunday reflects this foundational belief that is at the core of both Judaism and Christianity. Isaiah the Prophet speaks of the hospitality that is afforded the ‘foreigner’ who joins himself to the Lord. Often, the Prophets admonished the Israelite people to exercise mercy and hospitality on behalf of the foreigner, reminding them that they too were once ‘foreigners in a foreign land.’
That theme of hospitality and mercy continues in our Gospel passage today taken from Matthew. Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were not people of the Covenant and were often shunned, not unlike the Samaritans. Breaking through such tribal restrictions, Jesus speaks to the woman. Undoubtedly, sensing a kindly and receptive heart, she asks for a healing for her daughter. The companions of Jesus were shocked at such bold confidence in the presence of the Master. They want him to send her away. But, Jesus would have none of it. For the Lord saw through such meaningless class and ethnic distinctions to her heart of unwavering faith in him. Her healing was granted by the Lord of Life.
In the wake of Charlottesville, I heard a former neo-Nazi on one of the news channels, sharing his own conversion story from racist hatred to acceptance of the dignity of all of God’s children. He said that the catalyst for the dramatic about face in his life was the simple unsolicited kindness of an African American supervisor who took a mentoring interest in him as well as a lesbian co-worker who went out of her way to show him mercy, understanding and compassion. Seeds were planted that began the questioning of his long-held assumptions – assumptions that had brought him nothing but havoc in his life. Mercy and acceptance were the doors that opened for him a new life of seeing with new eyes the solidarity that holds all God’s children as sisters and brothers to each other.