Over the main doors at the entrance to our Cathedral (Our Lady of the Angels), there is an inscription that reads “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because it comes from this weekend’s first reading. Here the LORD is telling the Chosen People that foreigners who act justly will be welcomed to his holy mountain and their sacrifices will be acceptable to him. This is just one of many instances in the Hebrew scriptures where the LORD is teaching his people that the door is wider open than they thought; that there are more seats at the table than they knew.
At our mass of dedication in 1995 the song “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen was sung, and we’ve sung it occasionally since. It’s a beautiful tune with great lyrics. The 5th verse (which often enough we don’t get to sing because of the length of the entrance procession) says this (emphases mine):
Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome in this place.1
I’m sure we aspire to be the kind of community and church where all truly are welcome, but are we? Do we still have work to do? I think we do. But if our understanding of what it means to be a welcoming inclusive community is still unfolding, we must just keep trying to be better. When this pandemic is resolved and we are able to gather once again, what will it look like? What will it be like?
This brings us to this weekend’s Gospel reading where Jesus is a bit harsh with a Canaanite woman begging for help for her daughter who is in torment. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Eventually Jesus relents and heals her daughter because of the woman’s great persistence and great faith. “But sir, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.”
Some whose wisdom and knowledge I respect have said that this story is evidence of Jesus “growing in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). In other words, his understanding of his ministry, and for whom he was sent grew from just being savior to Israel to having been sent to all people – and it was the Canaanite woman’s “badgering” that helped him to come to that realization. Of course, no one wants to be on the wrong side of a Mama Bear advocating for her child!
That’s not to say that great faith and persistence in prayer are not great values – of course they are. But if Jesus’ understanding of his mission evolved, then we need not be discouraged if ours must also. Then we can sing “All are welcome” and it can be far more than just self-congratulatory. So, let’s “build a house”!