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How odd of God to choose the Jews.
William Norman Ewer, a foreign affairs writer for the Daily Herald wrote that in the 1920s.It caused much comment and not a little offence I guess.In fact quite a lot of people wanted to add to his epigram and maybe make it a little less offensive.
One, Leo Rosten, added: But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews.
It may seem odd of course, that God's self-revelation should start where it did, with a collection of nomadic people in the fertile crescent, and with an individual or set of individuals we know by the generic title Abraham.The genius of our tradition is the realisation not so much that God revealed himself to a particular people at a particular time but that God revealed himself at all.
The mistake that many have made is of believing that God disclosed his love and gave his call to a people, to one people, to the exclusion of others.
The heart of the Hebrew tradition recognises this: a rabbinic commentary on the Exodus, where Pharaoh and his host are drowned in the Red Sea, depicts God as saying:
Silence O Israel: the Lord is not rejoicing, for the Egyptians are also my children.
Exclusivity is attractive, it makes people feel special, chosen.The same was true of those who thought that God's self-disclosure stopped with one comparatively small ethnic group.All religions are prone to it to a certain extent, and particularly the Abrahamic strands, of which we are one.
When the Canaanite woman came to Jesus the disciples wanted to send her away for she crieth after us.Two reasons for this really. First, she was a woman.Second, she was a Gentile and therefore unclean.
She was also a Canaanite, recalling the settlement time of the Israelites in Canaan, when they are instructed to separate themselves from the people who lived there. But the episode is also full of paradox.
Jesus is in Gentile territory, and yet he insists that he came unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The woman, anything but acceptable to the people for whom Matthew wrote his gospel, has some inkling of who Jesus is. She calls him Lord and Son of David.
When Jesus appears to reject her plea she came and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. This must have confounded those who witnessed it, for a woman far away from their perceptions of orthodoxy had used terminology which demonstrated a considerable grasp of their tradition.
Moreover, she offered worship to someone most of them had not yet been able to recognise as anything more than a specially skilled and knowledgeable rabbi.
Jesus appears then to dismiss the woman, saying, it is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs.This is a standard Jewish insult to 'unclean' Gentiles.But the woman is not for giving up.She responds with what could be described as a 'show stopper': Truth Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters table.
Jesus perceives the woman's faith and her daughter is healed.She has perceived what many of the onlookers failed to see - that it is from Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, that grace is to be obtained.
It would not be long before it would be recognised that the mission of the followers of Jesus was to be directed to the whole of the Gentile worlds.Indeed, the end of Matthew's Gospel recognises this as Jesus instructs his disciples at his ascension: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world.
The Church was left in no doubt as to the universality of the Church's mission.It was to the whole world, and the wonderful grace that was to be offered was that all should be able to sit at the master's table instead of merely relying on what fell from it.
Every human soul was to be precious in the sight of God, offensive as that might seem to those who believed that being chosen by God meant being chosen to the exclusion of others.
In a way this blows apart our convictions too, for we can be pretty certain that we are, as it were OK and a whole lot of other people in the world are not.We are all forgiven sinners, all called by God.
But the grace and call of God do not stop there.
Too often we seem to think that where the mission of the church is concerned, results have to be seen, so that, obsessed with numbers we can boast that we are growing, as more and more people are rescued from the sea of troubles that is the world.They are hauled into the ark of the Church, whilst those who are missed or who fall off the edge are consigned, quite rightly, to oblivion.
It is a natural human aspiration to think we need to be special or privileged, as long as there are plenty in the world who in our eyes are not.
We are not here to judge, though, but to live according to the light that is constantly given us in the Gospels, which are for the whole world.
We are constantly fed along the road of pilgrimage at the table that has been opened to us, where Christ himself feeds us with his very self and draws us more closely to himself so that we can share his love with all.But we must never forget that our privileged position at this table is something intended for all. It requires an openness that will never, unlike some of the first disciples, want to send people away.
This sacrament, which is the heart of our common life, should be a sign of the unity to which all of humanity is called.
A French Cistercian writer put it like this:
As earthly joys call for a feast,
May joy unite us at God's table.
As wine makes the guests merry,
May the Spirit of Christ inebriate the living.
As a wedding gathers a crowd of friends,
may people come from the four corners of the world
to the banquet of the Lamb.