In the religion classes of our youth, most of us grew up being taught that the Israelites were the Chosen People of God, and so they were; but what exactly does that mean? If God chose Israel to be His own, where does that leave the other nations, left outside God’s covenant with Israel? In other words, what exactly is God’s stance toward the, well, ‘un-chosen’ people? A Scripture professor of mine once told us in class that, if we really thought about it, we should be scandalized at the fact that God chose one nation (among all the nations of earth) to bring about His plan; that, when God took flesh, He chose to do so in a male body, or more specifically an Aramaic-speaking Hebrew male body; or that God took flesh then and not now. The “chosen-ness,” at a certain point, should make us wonder at why God’s choosing was the way it was, as opposed to another way. But it really only scandalizes us until we realize what the Biblical concept of being “chosen” entails.
To be “chosen” was not a rude form of exclusivism on the part of God. Rather, throughout history, God chooses certain people in certain times in order to manifest what we know was always and everywhere His universal plan. So, yes, Israel is God’s chosen people, but precisely so that by their favor with God, they might be a light to all nations, guiding all peoples to salvation. Likewise, though Jesus took a certain body in a certain time and place, He did so to manifest His one plan of salvation for everyone, everywhere.
In our Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus speaks what seem like pretty harsh words to the Canaanite woman—words that, if we’ re honest, probably go against our modern spirit of inclusivity. The Canaanites were Gentiles par excellence for the Jews, and Jesus’ reaction to the woman’s pleas for her daughter speaks out loud what He knows is on the hearts of His disciples. And yet, even while Jesus addresses His disciples (interestingly, not the woman desperate for Jesus’ help) with the words, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” His actions interpret how we are to understand this mission—like God’s many other “choices,” the promise pours out not only upon the chosen, but upon the many.
The Gentile woman, by her extraordinary faith, shows her powerful receptivity to the salvation offered by God through the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, her faith proves stronger than many in the chosen nation of Israel. And as faith’s reward, the woman obtains deliverance for her daughter.
God’s love, my friends, is simply not exclusive. Even though there are times when His favor eludes our understanding, with God, we aren’t playing a zero-sum game. His calling is always and everywhere meant for the good of all, so that by the various ways we are chosen and called, we might manifest the love and saving plan of God. In the end, it is a mystery why God chooses who He chooses, or when, or where, or how. But of one thing we can be certain: we have inherited a great promise, and God does not fail to bestow His grace.
As some of you will notice, I am away this weekend for a dear friend’s wedding. Please welcome Fr. Peter Chineke from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, who was ordained with our Fr. Trummer. I have no doubt you’ ll find him a delight!
Keep spreading joy!