Early in his career the lyricist, Sheldon Harnick, wrote a song called “The Merry Minuet” which was made popular by the Kingston Trio back in 1959 and again in 2000. Four lines from that song have stuck with me. They are: “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls, The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don't like anybody very much!!” By the end of the song all of us have been destroyed by natural disasters or each other. This is a sad song with a very catchy tune. And it is as relevant now as it was when Sheldon Harnick wrote it.
There seems to be something in human nature that causes us to distrust, dislike and disdain people who aren’t like us. However, in today’s readings from Isaiah, St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and St Matthew’s Gospel, we hear that the Kingdom of Heaven is big enough to accommodate all of us. God does not care about our ethnicity, race, age, religious affiliation, physical or mental ability, social status, wealth, gender or profession. God’s house is “a house of prayer for all peoples” (IS 56: 7). This was a challenging message for the people who heard Isaiah’s words, Jesus’ words and St Paul’s words. It is a challenging message for us too.
Even Jesus initially rejected the Canaanite woman in our Gospel today saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"(MT 15:24). She was a Gentile and as a Canaanite, she was an ancestral enemy of the Jews. Observant Jews regarded Canaanites as idolaters and ritually unclean. Of course, being a woman didn't help matters. She had no business approaching Jesus about anything. But she did because she recognized that there was something extraordinary about him. Her great love for her sick daughter gave her courage and compelled her to approach Jesus even when she knew he might reject her. Not only did Jesus reject her, he insulted her, calling her a dog. However, the power of her love, her quick wit, humility, persistence and great faith carried the day. Jesus responded to her plea and healed her daughter, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (MT 15: 28).
By healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter Jesus demonstrated that God’s mercy and love extend far beyond our human limitations. It is not just for us Christians. God’s love is there for anyone who believes. As St Paul tells us “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” so that He “might have mercy upon all” (ROM 11: 29, 32).
Almighty God, ever-loving Father,
Your care extends beyond the boundaries of race and nation
to the hearts of all who live.
May the walls, which prejudice raises between us,
crumble beneath the shadow of your outstretched arm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.