SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 56:1.6-7; PS 67:2-3,5-6,8; ROM 11:13-15.29-32; MT 15:21-28]
The scripture readings today speak about the election of Israel as the Chosen People of God. They were chosen by God to be His Covenanted people. The call began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Egypt, they became a motley crowd of Hebrews. After leaving Egypt, they were called by God to become a nation called Israel. Over the long history of Israel came the Messiah who was a descendant of King David, born of Mary whose husband was named Joseph of the House of David. This is salvation history in a nutshell.
Some of us wonder why God is so unfair to choose Israel to be His chosen people, or even Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. Why did not God choose us instead? Why not the Chinese or the Indians or the Africans? The truth is that election is the free choice of God. It remains a mystery because love is always a mystery. Why did you choose someone to be your friend or your spouse? Surely it was not a calculated matter, after weighing all the pros and cons before you decided to choose someone as your friend or spouse, as if it is a business contract. Falling in love is a mystery. So too God’s election of His people remains a mystery.
In God’s awesome plan of salvation for humankind, He decreed that He would come to save us as man in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we were “once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another; but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.” (Titus 3:3f)
Consequently, the Second Person of the Trinity needed to be incarnated somewhere and at a specific time. God’s eternal plan was to send His Son at the appointed time to save us from sin and the law so that we could be His adopted sons and daughters. (cf Gal 4:4f) Historically, He chose to be born through Mary 2,000 years ago at Nazareth.
God became man so that He could be identified with us, to share in our temptations and pains and so become for us our leader in salvation. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.” (Heb 4:15) To see Jesus is to see the Father. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (Jn 14:10) Indeed, in Christ, we see who God is, in His love and mercy, especially through His works of mercy, forgiveness, healing, exorcisms and teaching.
Thus, the Jews were not chosen for themselves but for the whole of humanity. They were chosen so that the messiah could come from the tribe of Israel. They were called to be the light for the nations, not for themselves. “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isa 49:3) “And now the Lord says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, – he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” (Isa 49:5f)
Hence, we must conclude that all of us are chosen to be God’s people. This is the centrality of the message of today’s scripture readings. The Lord said, “Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the Sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” In the gospel, Jesus responded to the plea of the Canaanite woman to free her daughter from the torments of the demon. In the same vein, St Paul spoke of his mission to the Gentiles. “Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent.”
How then can we be saved? We need faith and charity. In the gospel, it was the faith of the Canaanite woman that saved her daughter. Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.” In spite of Jesus testing her faith and sincerity, she did not give up so easily. She refused to be discouraged by the disciples who were anti-Canaanites as they were their former enemies of the land. Instead, she persevered and humbled herself before the Lord. When Jesus explained to her that He was sent to the House of Israel to convert His people first, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs”, she retorted, “Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.”
Secondly, we need integrity and charity. Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.” The way of salvation is faith in the Lord, either explicitly or implicitly expressed in righteous living in truth, compassion and charity. We can have faith in God but that faith cannot save us without good works. “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” (Jms 2:14) “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (Jms 2:17f)
What then can we draw from today’s scripture readings for our application? Firstly, there is a tragedy for those who have been blessed with the gift of salvation but do not treasure it like the Jews. They rejected the gospel and their call to be the light for the nations. “Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead!” Indeed, how often, many of us take our faith, the Eucharist and the sacraments in the Church for granted.
Secondly, we must never forget that God has chosen us and blessed us, not for ourselves but for the service of God and humanity. Whatever we have, our talents, resources and our faith are meant for others. If we hoard them for ourselves, we would have done ourselves a disfavor because the gifts would have been wasted on us and others deprived of our blessings. That is why Christians are called to be evangelizers and missionaries for Christ. The faith that is given to us is not meant to be kept among ourselves, building an enclave, separating ourselves like the Jews in Jesus’ time from others. Rather, we must reach out to those who have no faith in Christ and share with them the Good News of salvation. St Paul made it clear why the pagans were chosen. “I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them.”
Thirdly, for those of us who have been blessed, let us not be too proud of ourselves. Just because we are PhD holders or have a good career or are making plenty of money, we must not credit ourselves too much, for without the mercy and kindness of God, we would not be where we are today. St Paul reminded the Gentile Christians of the mercy of God and their role in the salvation of the Jews. Just as they have received mercy from God through the Jews, they must now return that favor to them by sharing with them the Good News. “Just as you changed from being disobedient to God, and now enjoy mercy because of their disobedience, so those who are disobedient now – and only because of the mercy shown to you – will also enjoy mercy eventually. God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.”
In the final analysis, the mystery of God’s plan is beyond our understanding. This is the conclusion of St Paul in this chapter of Romans. Indeed, St Paul marveled at God’s mysterious way at the end of this chapter of Romans when he exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’” (Rom 11:33-35) In truth, whether we are the Chosen People of God from the beginning or later, or whether we reject God now or come to find Him later, the grace of God is operative in ways beyond our understanding. It is not for us to judge who is saved or not but rather, we should just play our part in the economy of salvation, doing what we can from the blessings we have received from Him. For the rest, we just leave them into the hands of God for He is all merciful and just as the psalmist says. “O God, be gracious and bless us and let your face shed its light upon us. Let the nations be glad and exult for you rule the world with justice.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.