Our Sacred Stories ~ How Wide is our World, How Broad is our Vision?
Every so often I visit the neighbourhood in which I grew up. When I do, I am surprised by how small everything seems to be. The street is now so short. What seemed as a child to be a long, steep hill is now a gentle grade. Those big backyards are tiny now. The bushes we used to hide in are sparse little shrubs. What happened to my big neighbourhood? How did it become so small?
Perhaps nothing happened to it. But a lot happened to me. I grew in both size and in experience. I left my little neighbourhood and moved into the larger world. What was my whole world as a child is now but a tiny piece of my world. As the years passed my world has grown beyond the street and backyards of my childhood. It encompasses many other neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and even countries. As my world grew, so too did my vision. This seems a common human experience. Even my vision of faith and of God and of God’s plan has broadened.
In fact, this broadening of vision is not just limited to you and to me. Over time the way people have related to and spoken of the divine has evolved and changed. The people of the Old Testament like other peoples in the ancient world viewed God in a limited way. Each people had their own gods who looked after them, just as other peoples were cared for by their gods. The Israelites began with such a vision.
Over time for the Israelites this limited view of God began to change. Very gradually, their One God began to be seen as the One God not just for Israel but for all peoples. We find indications of this growing vision of a universal God, caring for all peoples in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,... these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;... for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. (Isaiah 56:6-7)
The growing vision of God’s plan for humanity was a key part of the message and mission of Jesus as the Christ. He began to draw disciples to himself. As he did so the first were Jewish, still seeing the messiah as sent to the Jews. Very gradually, what was expressed by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah began to take root in Jesus’ message and be part of what the disciples came to discover. That is, that God and God’s saving, life-giving plan was for all humanity, all peoples.
Matthew’s gospel helps to recognize that this universal view of God and God’s plan became clearer only gradually, like all broadening of vision. He tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman who wanted him to free her daughter from being tormented by a demon. The disciples thought it inappropriate that a foreigner, a Gentile Canaanite woman should expect Jesus to call on the God Israel for her. Even Jesus himself seems reluctant to include her in his mission – I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt 15:21-28)
Only with her insistent faith does Jesus turn and reach out to her, acknowledging that her faith is great. Hers was a broad vision of the God of Israel. She saw and expressed what Isaiah had proclaimed, that the One God was God for all the peoples, all humanity. In Jesus’ message, the salvation that came from the Jews came for all humanity and all were welcomed into the reign that he was to bring to the world. How wide and welcoming is our faith? How open are we to the “other” - whether culture, colour or creed?