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Bishop's Homily for the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

But our Gospel today reminds us that Jesus is not exclusively inclusive.

By Bishop Larry Silva
August 16, 2020

[Our Lady of the Mount Church, Kalihi (150th Anniversary of Parish); Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (177th Anniversary of Dedication)]

I have great respect for the Knights of Columbus and all they do to bring the Good News of Jesus alive in our community.  I must confess, however, that my first opinion of them was not so good.  When I was a seminarian working at a parish on weekends, a Knight approached me and asked me to become a member.  I asked him what the requirements were.  He told me there was an initiation, meetings to attend and dues to pay.  When I asked about the meetings, he told me when they were held, and I told him I could not attend because I had classes at that time.  I then asked about the dues.  When he told me about them, I said I was a poor seminarian and could not afford the dues.  He said, “Don’t worry about the meetings or the dues, just come to the initiation.”  When I asked when that was, it was at a time I could not attend.  He said, “Just become a member anyway.”  I declined, thinking to myself, “Why would I want to belong to an organization in which I don’t have to pay dues, attend meetings, or even be initiated?”  It seemed silly to me to be a member of a group that made no demands whatsoever upon its members.

This little experience helped me better understand the Scripture readings for today and especially the strange encounter of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  We know that God wants to welcome all people to his heavenly banquet and even to the Church, which is the foretaste of that banquet.  But while the door is open to all, there are some requirements.  What we believe and how we live do matter, and Jesus does have boundaries.  In this Gospel, for example, Jesus makes clear that the kingdom of God he came to proclaim first demands worship of the true and living God.  The Canaanite woman was presumed not to be a woman of faith, but someone who followed false gods, and therefore she was at first rebuffed.  But then she showed her faith by bowing down to Jesus in homage and through her persistence, even when she was rebuffed.  Then the doors were open for her, because she had expressed faith in Jesus, who is the true and living God.

Isaiah and St. Paul also allude to the inclusive nature of God’s kingdom, that the Lord’s house is meant to be a house of prayer for all peoples, not just the Jews.  Yet both are also clear that there are criteria to be met, whether one is a born member of the Chosen People or whether one is adopted.  All must first join themselves to the Lord, minister to him, love his name and become his servants, keeping the sabbath and his covenant.  There is no temporary membership in the kingdom of God, but a full commitment that is demanded.  Visitors may be welcome on a “come and see” basis, but ultimately one must make a commitment.

Inclusion seems to be a greatly revered value in our society today.  We supposedly accept anyone, no matter what they believe.  But our Gospel today reminds us that Jesus is not exclusively inclusive.  He does make some demands of faith.  He is not interested in just filling up a membership book without having committed members.  He is very patient, but he does demand much of us.  In fact, he demands EVERYTHING of us, giving our whole lives to him.

And so, while Jesus is extremely merciful in forgiving our sins when we repent, he does not just throw his mercy to the dogs who devour it for a moment’s relief but who are not really interested in conversion.  We do have to at least want to turn away from our sins and at least make some effort to do so practically.  He may challenge us, and even make us uncomfortable, as he must have done to the Canaanite woman, but if we persist and do the best we can, he runs to meet us the rest of the way.

We live in a time that is often characterized by what is called “cafeteria Catholicism.”  We look at all the teachings of the Church – all of which are for our own good and the good of all people – but we pick and choose which we want to believe in.  We say, “I like this teaching, but that other one is just not for me.”  In this way, we make ourselves gods, not really following the covenant with the true and living God revealed in Jesus.  Today Jesus reminds us in a dramatic way that, while his arms are open to all, the kingdom of God is not interested in cheapening itself simply for the sake of claiming more members in its roll book.  It demands a life commitment from us all in order for our names to be enrolled in the Book of Life.  And as we are sent out to share the Good News of Jesus with others, it does no one any good to tell others that the way they live is of no consequence.  It is of the greatest consequence, and once it is, the house of the Lord is indeed a house for all peoples.