Love Your Enemies
In preparation for this Sunday, as I am accustomed to doing, I checked back over the years to see what I had written, what I was thinking, about these same readings we hear proclaimed today. The first homily I gave on Matthew 15 at St. Rita was on the weekend of August 14, 2005—nine years ago—and guess what. It started off with reference to what was happening in Iraq! For the sheer reason of demonstrating the enduring application of the Good News of Jesus, here is a somewhat redacted version of what I wrote:
Among the many things that made up our world this past week…[was] the bombing of a so called “safe house” in Haditha, Iraq. So, this Sunday, what might Jesus’ harsh words to a Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs,” have to do, if anything, with that bombing of a “safe house” or any of the other atrocities happening in our world today? —Actually, everything.
Matthew the Evangelist, while he could not have predicted the existence of “safe houses” as part of modern warfare, was, nevertheless, a master of Middle Eastern thought, language, and culture. It is precisely St. Matthew’s reference to a Canaanite woman pleading with Jesus for the healing of her daughter that universalizes his Gospel proclamation and makes it relevant for these millennia later and assures Jesus’ promises of his kingdom (not of this world), especially to such victims of war who hoped that they might actually be safe in a “safe house” that got bombed.
You see, Matthew’s Canaanite woman (a Syrophoenician woman in Mark), should have been considered an outcast and part of the “wicked and godless race to be exterminated” according to Jewish perception. In this light, Jesus’ equating her with “the dogs” would seem on target; but on the contrary, culturally, Jesus’ trading of “sayings” with her simply amounted to being “coy” with her. Just the opposite of considering her an outcast, Jesus is allowing this woman a certain familiarity and closeness. The disciples, remember, wanted her “dismissed.” Jesus’ actions reward and affirm her true faith. So, as an “other than Jew” she is not, according to Jesus’ new testament, excluded from the Reign of God, but by faith she is to be included and embraced by God’s redeeming and salvific love.
Indeed today’s gospel passage from St. Matthew is most relevant to our own day’s insecurities and threat upon our sense of personal and global wellbeing. Jesus’ message of forgiveness for sin and the promise of eternal life transcends it all. If we have a hard time with Jesus’ command to love our enemies, know that it has ever been so. Our Holy Father, Francis, sent Papal Envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni, to Iraq this past week. What will be his message? On some level, we can be most assured that it will essentially contain elements of today’s Gospel. Jesus’ clear remedy for “out-casting” (not to even mention extermination and genocide) is inclusion in His kingdom. Maybe what we call today “humanitarian” and worthy of charity and mercy in the midst of bloody conflict, is closer to the mind and the heart of Christ.