Of Presumption and Prejudice
Christ and the Canaanite Woman - c.1784 Germain-Jean Drouais

Of Presumption and Prejudice

The Gospel passage from Matthew (15:21-28) reminds me of my favorite representation of the Crucifix: the one whose arms are perfectly horizontal, as to embrace the whole world. Similarly, the readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Is 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2, 3, 5, 6, 8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32) illustrate the fact that the Father wishes to include every single person in his global family. Furthermore, it also proves that he wants to treat everyone as “his favorite child:” this is something that God alone can do. Our reaction might be: “FINE!”

Not so fast; and let me tell you why.

Every time a family expands through the birth of a new child or through adoption, the children have to adjust. They see the prospect of having to share “the pie” with more people; thus, their slice will be a bit smaller. The amount of attention, of caring, is bound to be a bit less–so they think. However, while this way of reasoning is valid as far as material things are concerned, it is not valid when it comes to genuine love. For genuine love has the ability to be as intense when directed toward one person as toward ten, twenty people.

Besides, here we are talking about God’s plan to expand his family so that all may be in his most loving embrace. He wants to bring to his holy mountain the foreigners who are ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 56:6). Since God is the Almighty and the Creator, those who are already within his family as his children should rejoice at the prospect of “family expansion.” That however was not the case when Jesus walked the streets of Palestine.

When it came to being clearly within God’s family, the Jews were guilty of prejudice and presumption. Let me show off my knowledge of Latin:

Prejudice comes from pre-judicare: to judge before having all the facts and/or the elements for judging justly; to pass judgment a priori. We can easily see how that is wrong.

Presumption comes from pre-sumere: to take in, to take up, to ingest, to make one’s own, to execute, to carry out, to establish, to affirm before having attained full grasp of something or of a situation.

We can easily see how that, too, is wrong. Yet these two inclinations, two propensities seem still to be favorite sports practiced frequently by many.

If we look at the Gospel passage of the Canaanite woman, we can see how Jesus goes along with his fellow Jews in presuming that pagans were “dogs,” judging them a priori to be unworthy of sharing the same table with the Israelites, the chosen children of God. Not only is Jesus silent; ignores her plea; addresses her as if she were a dog, but the verbs that the evangelist uses to describe her actions are also giving the same impression. She yelps like a dog; later on she sprawls out before Jesus like a dog. Jesus is intentionally rude, offensive, insulting, prejudiced in order to elicit a beautiful response of faith from her and prove to his disciples, the chosen ones, how those that they despise are actually more worthy of God’s generosity.

The lesson should not be lost on us. Presumption and prejudice are awful attitudes that should not be present in God’s family, especially around God’s table. Presumption and prejudice can surface in our heart as we become indifferent to the Crucifix, as we get too familiar with the Gospel, the Sacraments and God’s favors.

Presumption grows quickly whenever we reduce God to a vending machine with a limited supply of goods to deliver. Presumption festers as we expect preferential treatment and do anything we can to exclude others from God’s generous distribution of gifts. Presumption, in other words, wants to reduce the angle of Jesus’ outstretched arms to embrace just us, our little group.

Prejudice, on the other hand, brings us the false assurance that those whom we judge a priori as unworthy do not represent such a serious threat to our share of God’s favors.

It seems crucial, then, that we examine our inner disposition towards God’s gifts and see whether or not we live in his family with the attitude of perennial wonder, surprise, excitement and the spirit of sharing joyfully with as many as possible. Each of our days should be lived as if being fully certain that our Daddy’s supply of goods is infinite; and, most importantly, possessing the humble attitude of unworthiness.

Since God’s best gift is himself in Holy Communion, we should reevaluate our approach to this most wonderful and unmerited Sacrament. It is not by accident that the Canaanite woman mentions her right to eat the scraps of the Lord’s Table.

Two Sundays ago, we contemplated our ongoing “transfiguration” into replicas of Christ. Our arms too should be as outstretched as his! Last Sunday, we contemplated how we can do the impossible, like walking on water after Jesus feeds us with his Body and Blood and we are mindful of his absolute sovereignty over the whole universe. Now we learn that the best way to receive God in our hearts is by shedding all presumptions, all prejudices and assuming the humble disposition of the Canaanite woman.

Like her, we should accept God’s apparent indifference, his silence and be persistent. Like her, we should have a faith that survives loathing, insults and rejection. Like her, we should be ruled by a constant, solid foundation of humility that acknowledges any gift as unmerited. And we should be very happy as God expands the boundaries of his family, and finds room for so many more people around his table.

The best way we can make God’s wish come true, I think, would be for all of us to receive the Eucharist with the attitude of that woman of great faith and be willing to be broken bread, poured blood with Christ’s.

We ought to be willing to attend to the needs of the lowest members of his family with humble dedication, sincere wonder and unbridled joy.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin