Two events over the last few weeks remind us that we live in a deeply divided world where age-old boundaries continue to be reinforced in light of the “spirit of the times.” When Anders Breivik went on a shooting and bombing rampage in Norway late last month, killing 77 people, he claimed that his “atrocious and necessary actions” were in response to an increasingly multicultural society that was overly-hospitable to Muslims and which thereby threatened the ethnically and religiously homogenous nation of Norway. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the highly-politicized debate over the debt ceiling reminded us that the greater civic good always seems to lose whenever ideological purity is valued over compromise and cooperation. In the end, the ultimate question for many Americans was, regrettably, “Which side won?”
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, we recall how, in the midst of our personal and national grief at that time, we overcame every cultural, religious, political and social boundary to unite around the themes of compassion, neighborliness, and our common humanity. Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Christians prayed with one another; Democrats and Republicans worked side-by-side; people of every tribe and race and class found common ground in their grief and in their resilience; nations from every corner of the globe pledged their solidarity and unity. At the time, much conversation took place over how our lives had changed, and would change, in the days and years that followed. But ten years later, we seem more entrenched than ever in political, religious, and cultural ideologies that threaten our common life and erode our trust in one another. We’re back to arguing over who’s winning and who’s losing, straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
Our text for this Sunday (Matthew 15:21-28) reminds us that overcoming such ideological divides requires nothing short of a miracle. In the story, Jesus heals the daughter of a pleading, desperate Canaanite woman – but he does so reluctantly. She’s not of his tribe; her religious creed is not his own; she speaks a different language. We don’t know if Jesus’ initial reluctance was intended to accentuate the courage and beauty of his action, or if he really did have trouble crossing the age-old boundaries of his tradition. All we know is that, in the end, he healed the girl. Out of compassion, in a spirit of inclusion, he blurred the boundaries. The outsider was brought inside. Or maybe the truth of it is that the insider was brought outside – brought out from behind the false, archaic dichotomies of a world that no longer worked.
In Christ, we follow a God who would have us do the same, whose way in this world leaves no room for our weak categories of Christian or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, winners and losers. His way is one of neighborliness, gentleness, and reverence for the other, knowing that if love does not win, we all come up short.