Most of us at some point have experienced being an outsider. It is not a pleasant experience, mostly because you don’t know it until someone tells you (usually in a most unpleasant way). You feel devalued or outraged or both, not a pleasant experience. If you value getting back on the inside, you might consider changing some things about yourself, and all can be well again. But if what needs changing is impossible to change, like the color of your skin, your culture or ethnic origin, your past, or your deepest values and convictions, you face a difficult choice. After intense soul-searching, you can either walk away or fight back. If you walk away, you acknowledge your outsider status (whether or not you agree with it). Or you realize that reconciliation is not possible. But you can change your mind later. For now, it’s not worth the trouble. So you might seek others who have also walked away, and all can be well again—relatively speaking. Until it isn’t. You decide you want to be on the inside again, or at least prove to those on the inside how wrong they are. If you fight back, you face an uphill battle with much frustration and heartache. You soon realize that changing people who don’t want to change will require lots of patience, planning, and perseverance. But if you succeed, it will be the sweetest victory ever.
When Jesus introduced the concept of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he inadvertently created a distinction between two groups, those on the inside and those on the outside. The term implies a defined territory and human subjects and a king who is God. Now from studying the gospels and the beliefs held by his closest followers, we have come to understand that the Kingdom of God is neither a physical place nor a finite human population. Rather, it is more a voluntary human society founded on and sustained by the values and convictions Jesus Christ lived and taught.
Throughout history, this definition has changed quite a bit. The apostle Paul after his own conversion to Christ was convinced for a time that this New Way of living the faith was intended only for his own people, Israel. But when his own people repeatedly rejected his message, he discovered a broader mission to the Gentiles, those outside of Israel. But he was convinced that God will not take back his promise of salvation.
It seems in the gospel reading that Jesus had a much narrower understanding of his own mission, and that the Canaanite woman helped him to see differently. The Christians for whom this passage was intended were probably struggling with their own prejudices against those they saw as outsiders. And if Jesus is seen to accept a much broader mission consistent with the teaching of Isaiah and other prophetic voices in sacred scripture, how could they not? This turnaround is more a teaching tool than a new doctrine, since Jesus has on other occasions reached out to many other outsiders—lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, those possessed by demons, Samaritans, Roman officials, and sinners of all kinds.
The big question now is this: how does the church deal with outsiders? Please note that this question is bigger than you and me. We won’t be able to cover everything. I just hope I don’t make things worse. But here’s a few things to consider.
First, we have to recognize that we are all outsiders when it comes to the justice of God. Our voluntary rejection of truth and virtue separates us from God. But no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. God desires to restore us to friendship, and offer us reconciliation with himself and with one another. Baptism is God’s first move toward that reconciliation. In baptism we are washed clean and given the very Spirit of God to dwell within us. But knowing our weakness, God calls us to continued conversion everyday and offers us through the church, his sacraments of forgiveness and healing. When we repent of our sins, God extends forgiveness and heals our brokenness.
I know that within our church community there are some who see themselves as outsiders. Perhaps you grew up in another Christian tradition. Perhaps you married a Catholic spouse but have not yourself officially stepped into the boat. You’re here, but you still feel like a visitor, especially since you don’t know all the prayers, and when to sit, kneel, or stand up. We can help. Sometimes it’s much easier than you think. Come talk to me or Deacon Ed (or Jeanne Branch). We can at least come up with a plan.
For some it is a question of divorce, remarriage, or a marriage outside the church. You’ve sat down with someone before. It didn’t go well. It’s a hassle, not worth the aggravation. All I can offer is another attempt. Sometimes we realize only too late that we could have done something sooner. It should take just one meeting to figure out.
And there may be some here who have been away, away from the the practice of the faith, away from God. Maybe you were hurt. Maybe you drifted away. Maybe you don’t know where to begin. Give me a call. Sometimes all it takes to get back into the groove is a good confession. If you’ve called and I haven’t gotten back, don’t give up. If you’ve seen my desk, you’ll understand.
In any case, no one wants you eating scraps from under the table when there really is a place for you at the table. Jesus never turned anyone away who came to him. And since the church is sent to continue his work in the world, then neither should we.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014