I’ve always prided myself on inclusion. Perhaps that’s the first warning in this story, because pride is a very tricky (and sinful) thing.
Need somebody to teach English in the public schools? That’s me. Need another person to give up their college spring break to serve kids living in urban public housing? Hey, that’s me again. I’m there, with no prejudice attached.
We’re all God’s children, right? Sure.
Until I began RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church, I had no particular interest in evangelization. I knew I was supposed to tell people about the Good News of Jesus: that He took on humanity, lived among us, died for our sins, and resurrected to defeat death and sin three days later. Salvation, eternal life, and friendship with God, because of Jesus, is totally free. That’s wonderful news, but I possessed no real interest in telling anyone about it. I was born into a Christian family, the Gospel came pretty easy to me. I assumed it should come pretty easy to everyone else.
Fast forward to the present day, and I’ve experienced a change of heart. As it turns out, not everyone knows about Jesus. And for many, coming to faith isn’t that simple. There’s, unfortunately, often many circumstances that turn people away from the Gospel. Or simply, they may not want to accept it. But still, I want to share the Good News more now than ever.
Entrance: My pride.
Earlier this week, I ordered a stack of cards and a few brochures from the St. Paul Street Evangelization, a Catholic evangelization project that takes the Catholic faith to the literal streets. There’s no SPSE team where I live, but I was able to order the materials to give to acquaintances, leave with restaurant and service tips, and give to a stranger I may encounter.
As I would occasionally leave a Sacred Heart of Jesus card with my restaurant tips last week, I’d feel very good about myself.
“Ahh, spreading the Gospel has never been so easy!” I would think. “This could really set a chain reaction of events in someone’s life and bring countless souls to the Lord.” The satisfaction of a job well done.
So, one evening last week, as I walked through Walmart, I witnessed a familiar sight, one you may know yourself. There was a very overweight woman wearing high-cut jean shorts and a spaghetti-strap camisole for a shirt. There was nothing left to the imagination. With her were a couple of rambunctious kids (whom I assumed did not share the same father).
Though I came in contact with the woman for less than one second, it’s as if the Lord asked in that moment, “Would you share the Gospel with her if I asked you to?”
I felt my stomach and psyche knot up.
“Lord,” I said. “I know I should, but maybe somebody else could do that. Now, if you need someone to report for duty in an exotic land or to volunteer to sweep the floor at a convent, You know I’m ready to go.”
Basically, I was telling Jesus that I didn’t want morbidly obese women who didn’t wear appropriate clothing and couldn’t control their loud kids in Heaven with me. I pushed the woman and the thought to the back of my mind, thinking of other things I deemed much more important.
The next morning, I attended Mass at a local parish close to my hotel. I settled in, did the standard look-around that comes with visiting a new church, and waited for the Mass to begin. As I waited, I prayed that Jesus would show Himself to me during worship.
What a dangerous prayer for anyone to pray.
After the typical Catholic gymnastics, the ups and downs, it was time for the homily. Sunday’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman and her demon-oppressed daughter.
In brief: The Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, but His disciples tell Jesus to “send [the woman] away.” The woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter, even after Jesus says that “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The woman quickly responds: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” To this, Our Lord replies, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
In Jesus’s day, Canannites were a despised race, typically seen as the “other” in society. Rarely, did an Israelite want anything to do with the Canaanite, especially a Canaanite woman. As I listened, the parish priest speculated that Jesus may have played upon his disciples’ prejudices, only to turn the tables on them. Jesus’ disciples, it seemed, only wanted a certain type of person to experience Jesus’ healing and teachings. Yet, Jesus showed that His teachings were, and still are, applicable to everyone. With only her faith, the Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed and a miracle was performed. Race, sex, and social status was not a hindrance for Jesus.
As I listened, this message struck me between the eyes. Less than 24 hours earlier in Walmart, I was no better than Jesus’ disciples. Sure, I wanted salvation for everyone. I want everyone to know Jesus. But, when I was asked “Would you share the Gospel with her if I asked you to?,” I wasn’t about to abandon my neat, clean Christianity to minister to a woman who I assumed had no sense of common decency. During Mass, I prayed and I asked for forgiveness. I realized that when you ask Jesus to show Himself to you, it’s best to prepare for discomfort rather than nice platitudes.
And for this discomfort, I am grateful.