Is. 56:1, 6-7; Rom. 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt. 15:21-28
Dear brothers and sisters
During today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 56:1, 6-7], we heard the Words of the Lord God, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." It carries a profound message that transcends time and resonates deeply in our hearts. This call to unity, inclusivity, and reverence for the sacred is drawn from both the Old and New Testaments, reflecting God's unchanging desire for His people.
In the Bible, we find the words of Isaiah, who prophesied about the temple as a place of prayer for all nations. In Isaiah 56:7, it is written, "These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Theirburnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." The temple, originally built to be a dwelling place for God, was intended to be a beacon of divine love, drawing people from all walks of life to seek solace, forgiveness, and communion.
Similarly, the words of Jesus in the New Testament affirm this message. In the Gospel of Matthew 21:13, Jesus enters the temple and declares, "My house will be called a house of prayer." He emphasizes the temple's true purpose, which is to be a place of communion with God and unity among people, transcending boundaries and divisions.
A timeless story that echoes this message of inclusivity and devotion is Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales". It presents a diverse group of pilgrims from different backgrounds and social classes embark on a journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Despite their differences, their shared journey becomes a space of storytelling, camaraderie, and spiritual exploration. Through their interactions, Chaucer illustrates the potential for unity and understanding when people gather in a spirit of reverence and humility, just as Jesus intended for His house of prayer.
The Gospel passage - the Canaanite woman's encounter with Jesus in the district of Tyre and Sidon beautifully complements the message, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,".
In this story, a Canaanite woman, not belonging to the house of Israel, approaches Jesus in desperate need, crying out for mercy for her tormented daughter. At first, Jesus seems unresponsive, prompting the disciples to urge Him to send her away. In response, Jesus explains that His ministry is initially directed towards the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
In this interaction, Jesus is probing the depth of the woman's faith and determination. Jesus is moved by her faith and humility. He commends her and grants her request, healing her daughter. In this, Jesus exemplifies His true mission - a mission that extends far beyond specific ethnic or religious boundaries, embracing all who approach Him in sincerity and faith.
Today, we live in a world where conflicts fueled by religious differences persist. The very religions that preach love, compassion, and peace have sometimes been misused to justify violence and division. Our generation is witnessing conflicts where people fight in the name of religion, forgetting the essence of these teachings.
In recent years, there has been a movement known as "The Friendship Bench" in Zimbabwe that exemplifies the spirit of inclusivity and support across different faiths. The Friendship Bench is a mental health initiative that was initiated by Dr. Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist, who recognized the need for accessible mental health care in a country with limited resources.
Dr. Chibanda's approach involved training grandmothers, known as "community grandmothers," to provide basic psychological support to those in need. These grandmothers, who come from various religious and cultural backgrounds, offer a listening ear, comfort, and guidance to individuals struggling with mental health issues.
What's remarkable about this initiative is that it transcends religious and cultural barriers. The grandmothers who participate come from different faiths, including Christianity and traditional African religions. Yet, they work together to provide care and support, understanding that mental health knows no religious or cultural boundaries.
Today Jesus reminds us that the essence of a house of prayer is to foster unity, respect, and compassion for all peoples. It's a call to transcend the superficial differences that separate us and to come together in reverence for the divine. Let us remember that true faith is not about exclusion or superiority, but about humility, understanding, and love.