Jesus faced the multi-religious reality of the world of his day. Diversity is an outpouring of the Trinity.
Once again, the author of Isaiah is seized with the conviction that God wants no exclusivist club members as partners in the dialogue of love. But he puts it with his customary poetry: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.’ If Israel is chosen it is to be the mouthpiece of God to all the peoples and for no other reason. Foreigners will be brought to the holy mountain by God! They will be made joyful. Their sacrifices will be accepted. At one stroke, the notion that God restricts his love to a certain tribe, nation or religion is blown away. If God speaks in dialogue to individuals or communities, it is because that is how we are as human beings and only so we can pass on the central message that God wants to commune with us all. Universal is the call, universal the nature of the love of God.
‘We tend to think of God as exclusively our own property. But he is God of all the world, of Christians and non-Christians alike; and today we celebrate his mercies to others who are not of our faith.’ (The Sunday Missal. Edited by Harold Winstone, Collins 1975). It is good to know, as we develop the theme of the inclusive nature of the Biblical message, that we stand on the shoulders of others – in this case, Harold Winstone from over 40 years ago.
Paul likewise asserts the universal salvific will of God – ‘God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.’
Matthew has one of the classic texts to illustrate the way in which Jesus faced the multi-religious reality of the world of his day. Diversity is an outpouring of the Trinity. Jesus meets a Canaanite woman whose daughter is ill, and she so ‘shouts after us’ as the disciples say, that they plead with him to give her what she wants. By then, she has come up and is kneeling at his feet, pleading for his help – all social conventions thrust aside. At first Jesus is portrayed as being confined by the limits of his mission to Israel: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ We do not know the tones or nuances of voice he used, and it may not, in this context (her child is ill) be right to suggest that he was using a gentle tone tinged with humour. Whatever his tone, the woman is not put off nor does she react as if insulted or demeaned: ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Might it be that in response to Jesus’ tone of gentle reproof, she in turn is able to use humour and irony, imploring Jesus into helping her and her daughter? It works. Jesus answers her: ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ The woman has, with humour as much as faith, reminded Jesus of the inclusiveness of his mission.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a saint of the 20th Century, (previously known as Edith Stein), from her experience of travelling across religious boundaries, is a striking example of someone whose spirituality learnt to celebrate an inclusive God in constant dialogue with every person. From a deep loyalty both to her Jewish roots and her Christian faith: ‘her Carmelite calling can be seen as one that places the individual into the deepest and most intimate relationship with God as a call to radical personal transformation. From this transformation arises the need to seek God in all his beloved children, regardless of race, creed or religion.’ (Source unknown.)She is an example of all those who have travelled in the footsteps of Jesus, and inspired by his journey, know that God pours out his love on all. Any narrow tribalisms, nationalisms, religious belonging as justification for confrontational or oppositional attitudes towards the other is simply not of God.