A few years ago, I sat in on one of the parish’s confirmation classes. On that particular day, when I was dropping by to sit in, the class was engaged in playing a rather different game, which I would call the “Injustice Game.” The purpose of this exercise was to attempt to get the students angry about injustice in the world and to motivate them to desire to do something against that injustice as they became aware of it. In relation to the goals of preparation for Confirmation, the exercise was intended to help these young Christians understand that through the anointing they received at Confirmation, they were being called to witness to Christ and the values of His Gospel in their day to day lives. The game was intended to help them see that the adult Christian, who has been anointed in Confirmation, is called to speak up against discrimination and injustice.
The way the game was supposed to open their eyes to injustice was by embracing many of the injustices of the world. The game attempted to reward people for reasons that were completely unfair. In the same way, it sought to penalize people in equally unfair and discriminatory ways. As sometimes happens in life, people were given points based on the family they came from and others lost points based upon the family that they came from. It became clear to those playing, that it was an unfair game and system. Points were awarded if the young candidate came from a family that was born in Canada, owned its own home, if they had a fair complexion, had their own yard and garage, and if they had more than two cars. On the other hand, points were taken away if the family was not born in Canada, did not own their own home, did not own cars, or had a skin tone other than white.
At the end of the game, the winner was given a bag of candies that contained enough candies to be shared with everyone. The purpose of the game was to help the young people see how some people in society occasionally receive an advantage for aspects about themselves that are not based upon talent and merit; and that others can be penalized as a result of prejudices and issues that have nothing to do with their talent or ability. Happily, in almost all cases, the winner of the biased game always saw that she/he had won as a result of a biased system and the candies were always shared in the class.
I thought of this “Injustice Game” when I read this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus uses some surprising language as He speaks to the Canaanite women who has brought her daughter to be cured. When other outsiders, like the Samaritan women, have approached Him, Jesus has not rejected them with this same rough way of speaking. These words, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs,” seem shocking coming from the lips of Jesus. They make us wander what is going on?
It seems as if Jesus is playing the “Injustice Game” with this woman. He is pushing her in order to get her to stand up and claim what He desires her to have as a daughter of God. Jesus is doing this so that you and I might take notice of it and speak about it and learn from it many years later. Jesus wants us to notice that His salvation is intended for all people. He is emphasizing that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Anyone who has the faith of this women, who says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David,” no matter what their nationality or race, can have salvation. Jesus desires to save all people. The mission of His Catholic Church is universal salvation for all people.
Last month, I read a book, which made a great impression upon me. This book was the autobiography of Malcom X. In it, he spoke of the fact that he had never been able to accept Christianity, because the religion that He received in the segregated United States of the 1930’s and 40’s, while he was growing up, presented Jesus as a blond-haired, blue-eyed servant of the rich white man. This Southern image of the Christian God had only been used to oppress and dominate black people, and comfort them with a Heaven where they would be rewarded for their suffering. This image allowed white people to do whatever they wanted on earth and only promised black people some reward in Heaven after their suffering on earth. Malcom X also indicated that early on in his life, he believed that all white people were evil because all he had known in the United States was a segregation that allowed the white man to abuse the members of his people and deny them justice. It was because of the injustice that his people experienced that Malcom X felt he had to speak out and stand up for his people.
Later in his life, just months before he was murdered, Malcom X has an experience that changed his life. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage was his first real trip outside of the United States and the experience of segregation that he had known there all his life. On this pilgrimage, he was shocked to see men and women of every colour, race and land all treating one another as brothers and sisters. It shocked him that so many white and light skinned colored people could have treated him as a human being. As a result, he changed his way of thinking. He was no longer ready to condemn an entire race. He spoke of the need of all races to work together to put an end to racism and injustice. He called all people to speak against racism.
At the end of Malcom X’s autobiography is the eulogy that was given at his funeral by Ossie Davis. In this eulogy, Davis says that what made people take note of Malcom X was that he dared to stand up and claim his dignity as a man. Because of this, others felt free to do the same.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, what causes us to take notice of the Canaanite women is that she dares to stand up and claim her dignity as a human being made in the image and likeness of God. She is not doing this for Jesus. She is doing this for us.
Through His interaction with this woman, Jesus is proclaiming to us that salvation is for all people who come to Jesus and call upon Him as “Lord.” Our duty as Christians is to take notice where we see injustice and be willing to stand up and witness to the value of life in all persons. Today this might require us to speak for the unborn, for those who are victims of discrimination, or for the elderly person being pressured to consider euthanasia by caregivers hoping for an extra hospital bed.
When I was reading his autobiography, at the part where Malcom X was describing the variety of people who come together on pilgrimage from all the nations of the world, I could not help but think of our own Catholic churches here in Toronto. Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands, from the many different countries of the world, make a shorter pilgrimage to receive the Lord. In our Communion processions, we gather men and women of every nation to approach the Lord. There are no distinctions among us as we come forward. We are all brothers and sisters receiving our Lord in the Eucharist and being built up into His one Body, the Church. This is a beautiful thing that we ought to be aware of and of its significance.
Jesus never intended to say “no” to the Canaanite women. He made her ask twice so that you and I could pay attention and hear His response to her. He invited her to stand up for what was her dignity as a daughter of God. When we come forward to receive the Eucharist, Jesus invites us to stand up to claim the dignity He bestows upon us through our Baptism and Confirmation. As we claim this dignity, we are also invited to be His witnesses in the world. Christians as sent from the Eucharist out into the world, as St. Paul was sent in today’s second reading, to proclaim the Good News to all people. Part of the Good News that we are asked to proclaim is that every human being has been made in the image and likeness of God and that we are all brothers and sisters deserving of dignity and respect. As the prophet Isaiah tells us in today’s first reading: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
Sometimes, I get a little emotional giving out communion. As people come forward, I see parents coming forward with their children. I think of their grandparent who was buried a few months ago, one who also used to come forward every week. At another time, I see a once vigorous person approach with a walker. Each year, there are new people coming forward, and I recall others who no longer come forward because they are now at the eternal banquet in Heaven. The communion line is our mini-pilgrimage to the Lord each week. In it we are reminded that our Church is made up of all people and we are each called in receiving Christ to know not only our dignity, but that of our brothers and sisters of all colors. The psalm response this Sunday proclaims: “Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you!” May all the people who praise God, also acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters and speak of the respect and dignity that is due to each human being who has been made in the image and likeness of God.
Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor— St. Peter’s Church—Toronto.
Reflection based upon readings for Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time- A: Isaiah 56: 1,6-7; Psalm 67; Romans 11: 11-13, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28.