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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

When Jesus Says, "No"

Over one million young people, their families, and friends participated in World Youth Day earlier this month in Portugal. As usual, it was an uplifting moment of faith for those who attended and for the Church around the world. As he greeted the million-plus young people there, Pope Francis reminded them of the nearness of Jesus and His desire for each of us: “Jesus never closes the door, never, but invites you to enter: come and see. Jesus receives, Jesus welcomes. In these days, each of us transmits the love of Jesus. God loves you. God calls you. How lovely this is! God loves me. God calls me. He wants me to be close to him.”

Striking from that initial encounter were the pope’s words about the Church:

Friends, I want to be clear with you, for you are allergic to falsity and empty words: in the Church, there is room for everyone. Everyone. In the Church, no one is left out or left over. There is room for everyone. Just the way we are. Everyone. Jesus says this clearly. When he sends the apostles to invite people to the banquet which a man had prepared, he tells them: “Go out and bring in everyone”, young and old, healthy and infirm, righteous and sinners. Everyone, everyone, everyone! In the Church there is room for everyone. “Father, but I am a wretch, is there room for me? There is room for everyone! All together now, everyone, repeat with me in your own language: Everyone, everyone, everyone. I can’t hear you: again! Everyone. Everyone. Everyone. That is the Church, the Mother of all. There is room for everyone. The Lord does not point a finger, but opens his arms. It is odd: the Lord does not know how to do this (pointing), but that (opening wide). He embraces us all. He shows us Jesus on the cross, who opened his arms wide in order to be crucified and die for us.

Imagine, over one million people, referring to the Church, chanting that refrain: “Everyone, everyone, everyone!” “Todos, todos, todos!” I heard that, and I was hopeful!

So, naturally, I thought this would be a good accompaniment for today’s Gospel, in which we find Jesus extending saving love and healing even to a Canaanite woman – someone outside of the People of God, the “Chosen.” And it is; but we need to grapple with something else first.

How is Jesus’ attitude toward that woman “inviting,” “welcoming.” If the pope is saying that “Jesus never closes the door,” then why would He treat this woman as He does?

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…”

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

That sure feels like a closed door, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t sound like an “invitation.”

… or is it?

Let’s consider the entire context of this story – even daring to go beyond the text. Imaging Christ ministering as He did in Palestine. Truly, He came to the house of Israel, being born of Mary and Joseph, and being the fulfilment of the promises of a Messiah. In His teaching and interactions with the poor, the sick, and the sinner, Jesus showed that God loves us and wants us to be whole. God, who created everything, and everyone.

Imagine this Canaanite woman hearing of this marvelous Man. It is impossible that she would have been unaware of the longing of the people of Israel, and much less likely that she would not have heard of Jesus’ fame and activity. This wonderful Man gave sight to the blind, healed the lame, and raised the dead – all while claiming to be sent by God Himself because of the Father’s love. Certainly, when we dear daughter was suffering, it was a no-brainer to reach out to Him – especially when He was wandering in her neighborhood!

This woman was not simply “desperate,” willing to try anything. No. She knew where the help for her little girl could be found, and she sought Him out. She had faith. This is what brought her to Jesus – faith, and nothing else.

When Jesus seemed to shun her, and even to rebuke her, she could have walked away bitter. However, she did not. She maintained her position – not only physically, but more important, her position of faith. Christ’s rebuke, in fact, became her invitation to truly demonstrate her faith – that even in an apparent failure and lack of “results,” she still believed that He was the only Source of wholeness, healing, and salvation. And she received it.

Sometimes, a “No” from Jesus is an invitation – and invitation to deeper faith. Sometimes, that “No” is, in fact, an open door that we either turn from or walk through. Jesus knows your faith; Jesus hungers for your faith. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it requires effort; sometimes it requires patience. But Jesus is opening a door for you, nevertheless. Everyone is welcome to walk through that door – not because of who may or may not be inside, but because of the One who is that Door, the One who opens it in the first place.

Take this to prayer this week. Where has Jesus apparently told you “No”? How have you responded? Is it possible that He is inviting you to a deeper faith than you started with? Don’t think that that door has been closed, friends! It’s still open, and Jesus is standing there holding it for you.

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