Where sons are fools, slaves will be masters, and share the inheritance like heirs born. (Proverbs 17:2)
In Jesus’s time the idea that God’s grace and goodness was for the gentile and not just for the Jew was an absolutely revolting idea. The Jew’s took immense pride in their situation. They were God’s chosen people with whom He had covenanted Himself. The Lord was not just their God, but the only God; He was the living God and all other gods were not gods at all, just pieces of wood, stone, and metal formed by human hands. That a people who were not of the covenant, a people to whom the Lord had not revealed Himself, and a people who engaged in abominable practices should be part of the kingdom of God was unthinkable. The Messiah who would reestablish the everlasting kingdom of David was of the Jews. It would be His throne, the throne of a Jew, a descendant of David, that would be everlasting while all others passed away. It was the Jews who worshipped God as He was suppose to be worshipped and only Jews could enter the Temple past the outer court. So far removed was the gentile from the Jew that to even go into a gentile’s house was to make one’s self unclean and necessitate purification.
Keeping the above in mind, it is understandable that the Jews of Nazareth would want to kill Jesus, the son of a poor carpenter. He is proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. Rumors spread about him being a great prophet. He is already known to have done many miracles. When He anticipates that the people of His own town will ask Him to do what he has done elsewhere, He points out that in Elijah’s time their were many widows in Israel during the great famine, but it was a Sidonian widow to whom Elijah was sent; likewise, in the time of Elisha there were many lepers in Israel, but it was Naaman, a Syrian, who was healed by the prophet. (Luke 4:23-30) It is also understandable that it took a particular revelation from God to prompt Peter to make the first proclamation of the Good News to the gentiles. (Acts 10) Finally, it is understandable that some Jewish Christians would go about telling other Christians they need to observe the Mosaic law including circumcision because salvation is for the Jews, and one becomes a Jew through circumcision and observance of the rest of the Mosaic law. But the Jews didn’t accept their inheritance. And so it went to the slaves who were willing to accept it.
In the earliest years of the Church it was exclusively Jewish. Those of gentile background who were of the baptized were those who had already become a Jew through the Mosaic law. (We get a hint of this by way of the first controversy of the Christian community: unequal distribution of goods to the widows). Within the lifetime of the Apostles, however, the Church became both Jewish and Gentile, and before a century had past the Church was distinctly Gentile in composition, having been rejected by the Jews. The sons were fools and the slaves became masters. We even find instances in which this did not just happen spiritually, but in a worldly sense was well. For the runaway slave, Onesimus, when sent back to his master, Philemon, by Paul was not only accepted back in love, but eventually set free and later became a bishop. We see in St. Onesimus a microcosm of salvation and glory, a glory completed through martyrdom.
Now we finally come to the point of this post. Why is it that some Christians think that this does not apply to us? Are we not like the Jews of Jesus’s time when we act as though our salvation is assured because of our faith, because we have that feeling of love in us, because we go to Mass everyday, pray the Rosary everyday, obediently support Catholic institutions, and engage in charitable works? Are we not like the Jews of Jesus’s time by taking offense when a pope says (and Pope Francis is certainly not the first to say this) that it is possible for an atheist to go to heaven? There is a striking pericope from the Gospel of Matthew in which a Canaanite woman is crying out to Jesus to free her daughter from an evil spirit. Surprisingly, He ignores her pleas. His Apostles (not surprisingly) beg Him to rid them of her. When our Lord speaks to her, He calls her a dog, saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she responds: “Lord, the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” To which Jesus answers: “Woman, for this great faith of thine, let thy will be granted.” (Matt 15:21-28) In keeping with this analogy we must never forget that it is quite common for children to refuse the food their parents put before them, food that dogs will quite happily and indiscriminately eat up. Therefore, let us not simply be good and obedient children, but loving children. Love, however, must be fruitful. Let us proclaim the Good News of salvation to all, a proclamation that springs forth from the joy of our own experience in encountering and living within God, Trinity and Unity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.