SUNDAY REFLECTION - Sunday, August 20th 2017

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  Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matt 15:21-28
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WELCOMING THE STRANGER

The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a time when all people of good will, irrespective of race or language, would be welcomed into the house of the Lord. He conveyed God’s promise “I will make them joyful in my house”.

In the Gospel story it would seem that Jesus shared the local prejudice of his fellow countrymen and women when he rebuffed the appeal for help from the foreign woman. But her persistence broke through his prejudice, leading him to exclaim, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

We live at a time when there is a great resistance to welcoming the foreigner. It is one of the major news items in the political world on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time we read and hear of the desperate attempts by some people to flee from areas of conflict and poverty in search of a better life. For many, that flight ends in disaster and loss of life.

We may see these issues as crises for politicians to resolve but is that the full truth? At times the positions taken by politicians reflect the fears and anxieties of their constituents. Welcoming the stranger is a challenge. We are more comfortable dealing with our own. But those who aim to follow in the footsteps of Jesus are constantly called to reach out to others, even when this takes us beyond our comfort zone. As a pensioner I have been pleasantly surprised by the friendly gestures of foreigners towards me - offering a seat on the Luas, or inviting me to pass them out at a checkout when they have a full trolley and I have only a few items. There are so many ordinary situations in which we meet strangers. As they look at us, do they see a friendly, helpful and welcoming face, or one who views them with unease. Children can teach us a lesson. In schools children come to regard it as normal to be relating with children from different backgrounds. This playground friendliness often helps parents overcome their instinctive hesitation.

Breaking barriers and welcoming the stranger is not just something that is good for the person we welcome. We also benefit and can be enriched by the relationships that grow with others once the initial barriers have been broken.
John Byrne
Paulist Press