THEME: The universal call to salvation
Religious people of all persuasions have always had problems with those not of their persuasion. Jews at the time of Jesus and Christians now, Protestants and Catholics alike, seem rather particular about those to whom they are willing to grant salvation. The readings of today bring to the fore the universalism of God’s saving works.
It is important to put the first reading into its proper context so that we can better appreciate it. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is divided into three sections namely: First Isaiah which is called the Book of Judgment (Isaiah 1-39) ; Deutero (Second) Isaiah which is also called the Book of Consolation ( Isaiah 40-55)and Trito(Third Isaiah) which is also called the Book of Restoration (Isaiah 56-66).
The first reading is taken from the book of restoration (Isaiah 56-66). The Israelites have just returned from exile and they had to deal with an acute practical problem arising after the return and the restoration of the Temple. This chapter is a prophecy foreshadowing the universalism of the Gospel. Isaiah says “Thus says the Lord, maintain justice and do what is right for soon my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1). The salvation Isaiah is talking about now is one which is universal in character and not the sole preserve of the Jews.
All the discrimination that characterized Israel before they went into exile as regards temple worship was to end with the advent of the returned exile. Foreigners and eunuchs were not allowed to enter certain places in the temple because it was the preserve of the Israelites, the chosen people. Thus the Lord says “ And foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant; these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer…” (Isaiah 56:6-7).
The universal aspect of God’s salvation is made explicit when God says that the burnt offering and sacrifices of foreigners will be acceptable on His altar “For my house shall be called my house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7). Rejoicing in being a member of a redeemed people was one thing. Using that prerogative as an excuse for excluding others from salvation was something else. Today’s reading seem to indicate that there is no basis whatsoever in God’s mind for such parochialism. Thank God our Church is Catholic which means universal. It is a Church which excludes no one.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus who is a perfect revealer of God fulfills the mission of his father that salvation is for all people of all persuasions. It is the pagan, a Canaanite lady of the Gospel who is the star of today’s liturgy. She is definitely not a Jew; but she is a human being, a mother possessed of the best human virtues, compassion, persistence and the like. It is not her religious persuasion which wins Jesus admiration but her faith in Jesus. Jesus told her “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matthew 15:28).
Non- Christians may not have a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ; they may not possess the fullness of truth, but if they “Keep justice and do righteous,” (Isaiah 56:1), if they recognize their dependence on God and trust Him and treat their neighbor with compassion; above all, if they honestly and sincerely follow the directions of their consciences, God’s salvation will come; His deliverance will be revealed. Karl Rahner, one of the greatest theologians of our Church calls them “Anonymous Christians,” Christians whom God uses for his own good purposes.
It is interesting to note that God has not revealed much about the fate of people who die without baptism; but three very consoling truths can be distilled from the Bible namely: God wills and desires all men to be saved; Jesus died for all men; no one is lost or condemned except through free, deliberate, malicious rejection of God’s love.
The second reading affirms the fact that God salvation is for all. St. Paul says that “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). By the death of Jesus on the cross, everybody is a potential witness to Christ. “Because of the unbelief of the Jews, you Gentiles were saved,” said Paul. “Now, may it be that through your salvation Israel will come to know Christ” (Romans 11:30-32). It must be emphasised that Paul repeatedly reminded the saved Gentiles that they have a spiritual obligation to Israel to “provoke them to jealousy”
The same is true for us Christians. Instead of becoming a stumbling block to people who desire salvation, let our Christian life provoke them to jealousy; a kind of jealousy that will draw them a little closer to their salvation.
Some of us behave as if it is we who have the right to be saved. As a result, we think that others do not matter. God is, indeed, not pleased with such attitudes. Let us repent because we know today that salvation is universal. If you want to be saved, then you have the responsibility to bring others to the fold. Be on your guard against anything that threatens the universal nature of salvation.
In conclusion, the purpose of the universality of God’s salvation is so that all nations will praise Him. The Responsorial Psalm should fascinate every Christian not become a stumbling block on the way of anyone who desires to become a part of the people of God. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and His face to shine upon us that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). Go fulfill this mission of God that all nations may recognize God’s saving works and praise Him