Who's In and Who's Out?

The “Members Only” signs are mostly gone today, but many of us know that there are still places where membership is restricted; where some belong and others do not. To be an insider, we still show our ID card, our green card, our picture ID or some other badge of membership. Sadly, we still exclude people on the basis of class, race, creed, income, ethnic background, title or sex. We continue to struggle with the concept of universal acceptance, yet we know that in God’s house all are welcome.

Since Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross to welcome all, no person or group can claim an exclusive right to him. The power of Jesus’ love destroyed the barrier separating the sacred from the secular. At Jesus’ crucifixion, the temple veil was split in half, and the “Holy of Holies” spilled out into the world and all became holy…acceptable…welcome.

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel knew she was a non-member, someone who didn’t belong for so many reasons. Rejected by the disciples and by Jesus, her persistent faith allowed her to continue to reach out to Jesus asking that her daughter be healed. Jesus praised her: “O woman, great is your faith,” while he reminded Peter in last week’s gospel:   “O you of little faith.” This woman is only one of two people in Matthew’s Gospel praised for their great faith. Both were non-Israelites. [The Centurion, 8:10]

Spiritual writer Alice Camille reflected on this Gospel story in this way: “If anyone is being tested in this Gospel story, …it is us. Are we prepared to think outside the box of our own presumptions about who’s in and who’s out of God’s favor? Will we continue to police the borders of the church to make sure no unauthorized or unworthy person manages to get the scraps that fall from the Master’s banquet of salvation? …We, to whom grace has been given so freely and without merit, might spare a little for our neighbor.” And as individuals and as church, may we become attentive to the many people and events that God puts in our path in the hope of changing our minds.

Megan McKenna makes the comparison between the chosen people of God in today’s Gospel and the residents of the first world. We first world residents are the people at the table. Many of us are the well fed, while our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world are under the table feeding on the leftovers. As first world people, there should be no barriers separating those at the table from those under it. Of the millions of malnourished people in the world, we first world diners struggle with unhealthy diets, and our intake of too many calories. While there is food enough for all, millions are still under the table, struggling to exist.

The invitations have been sent, and the divine host calls us all to learn our table-manners from the Jesus who welcomed sinners and ate with them. Jesus asks for no ID card, no badge of membership, or special status to come to the Table. Any effort to limit access to him, for whatever reason, is never part of his plan. Relentless love and courageous faith will always be met by relentless love from a God who ignores all barriers, and standards of worthiness. What is required is a metanoia, a fundamental and ongoing conversion of the spirit that requires daily sharing. When, that happens, everyone’s in and no one’s out.                                           ----Deacon Wilson Shierk