Is there something wrong with paganism


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Sent to whom and who called?
(Sermon on the 30th Sunday in the 2020 annual cycle (LJ A))

Author:Wandinger Nikolaus
Published in:



Readings: (Isa 56: 1-6-7); Romans 11: 13-15.29-32; Mt 15: 21-28


Dear believers,


Today's reading texts relate to one another like two sides of the same coin: Paul tries to make clear to his addressees in Rome who have converted from paganism what the situation is with the salvation of the Jews; and there Jesus must learn that he is not just is there for the Jews. As we know from history and the present, the relationship between Jews and Christians is an extremely delicate matter. So let's take a closer look at the lyrics.


Jesus is not exactly popular in today's history. A woman from Canaan, a pagan for Jesus and his disciples, comes to him and asks him to help her daughter. And Jesus just doesn't give her an answer at first. He, the great healer and expeller of demons, simply leaves a woman looking for help standing without a word. But that's not enough for the disciples. They tell him to send the woman away immediately. She is annoying with her yelling and draws unwanted attention to the group.


But then Jesus doesn't do that after all. At least he now gives a reason for his strange behavior: His mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to people of the Jewish faith. A strange idea for us today. Do not love God then all People? For Jesus and his disciples it was obviously a matter of course: after all, the Jewish people are chosen by God.


However, this form of delimiting theology is not able to convince women. At the moment she is not at all interested in theology, but in helping her daughter. She prostrates herself before Jesus and asks him again. Again, Jesus doesn't react very sympathetically. He compares the Jewish people to children, but the Gentiles to small dogs. And yes: you don't take food away from children to give to dogs. But, one would like to ask: what about general human dignity? How can you compare people to dogs in order to withhold help from them? Isn't that a bottomless outrage ?!


At the time of Jesus, however, the idea of ​​general human dignity was still unknown. The woman may still have felt belittled and offended. She could have left disappointed and bitter, converted from trusting this Jewish faith healer. Instead, she does something completely different: she lets herself into his strange logic, agrees with him in principle, but shows him that this is not a sufficient reason to refuse her help. Something always falls off the table for the dogs. Then drop something for my daughter. Even if you accept the principle, there are always individual cases to which it is not applicable, so you could formulate your argument a little more theoretically.


This now brings about a change of heart in Jesus. Suddenly he is no longer interested in principles. Suddenly he sees what he had overlooked before: the faith that this woman shows him. How often has he said to people “Your faith has helped you”, and now there is a woman who belongs to another - pagan - religion, but who has great faith. It cannot be a matter of detailed beliefs here, because they are definitely different with this woman than with the Jews, with Jesus and his disciples. But it is about a tremendous trust that Jesus and the God he preaches are for life; and that they want this life not only for a chosen people or religious community, but for humanity. One could almost say: The fact that the woman upholds this faith in spite of Jesus' harsh resistance only opens his eyes to the fact that his mission begins in the House of Israel, but certainly does not end there.


The young church had to learn that too. And nobody understood it as clearly as the apostle of the peoples Paul, who knew that he was specially sent to the Gentiles, traveled almost all over the Mediterranean and then wrote his letters to the Gentile Christian communities. For him, too, there is a big problem: How can it be that the chosen people of Israel disobeyed God and did not recognize Jesus as Christ? And what does that mean now? Does it mean Israel is rejected? How tempting would that be! But Paul sees that it cannot go like this, because “the gifts of grace and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Whoever has been chosen by God like the people of Israel will remain so forever. But Paul states something: Israel disobeyed when they did not accept Jesus as Christ. And this had the wonderful consequence that the heathen, who also disobeyed God, found God's mercy. And now, according to Paul, it is the other way round: the mercy of God that the Gentiles received will pass to the Jews, who are now disobedient, and all will find God's mercy.


Dear believers,


Paul's argumentation can also seem strange here, but the result that he records seems very important to me: “God has locked everyone in disobedience in order to have mercy on all” (Rom 11:32). The mercy of God is what matters. This applies to Jews and Gentiles - and, according to Paul, this is all people. It is his central realization that people are not saved by being obedient, by keeping the law. Rather, he is convinced that if it came down to it, everyone would fail. And that is why being chosen cannot mean that one has any privileges or that one is in a better position before God than others. To be chosen can only mean: In this person or this group of people, God shows in an exemplary manner how He stands up for life - not to limit it to this group and withhold it from others, but to let it radiate from there into the world.


People of the Jewish and Christian faith see themselves as God's chosen people. you have to but don't judge them against each other. Not: “I am chosen, but you are not”, but “If I am chosen, then you too. - I want to see how God works with you.” If election is exemplary and not exclusive, then we must be vigilant for that God's elective work, especially for others.


Apparently Jesus had to learn first that his mission to the lost sheep of Israel was not exclusive, but exemplary. Terribly, the church then forgot this knowledge for centuries and acted contrary to people of the Jewish faith, but also to people of other faiths. And yet the message that the Bible brought into the world has grown an understanding of the equal dignity of all human beings and the human rights based on it. First enforced against the church as an institution, until finally it too officially recognized how much it owed itself to Judaism and recorded the calling of Israel; until she finally learned to appreciate the value of other religions in the Second Vatican Council and taught the right to religious freedom; until she stated that there is a belief by which one pleases God; that this belief is not characterized by certain contents, but only by trust in the God of life. [1]


So a good end to a long, difficult journey? That would be too easy. We are not finished yet and the message of today's readings keeps asking us uncomfortable questions: Where do we think we know theologically or socially with certainty that something is none of our business (like Jesus with the Canaanite woman)? Will we then also be taught otherwise? Where do we represent noble principles and fail to see that there can be individual cases to which they are not applicable? Where do we think we are culturally or ethically or socially higher and can look down on others? Do we also open our eyes to the fact that this is a delusion? Where do we imagine that we are the "obedient" to God - and that others are disobedient? Then do we find that we all need God's mercy?


This seems to me to be the most important and most valuable thing today: Because even if we had to answer several of these questions to our disadvantage - and I have to be sure - then it remains: Everyone disobeyed, but God had mercy on everyone. And whatever stupid things we may do: Also the Graces and the Calling of God that us have been granted are irrevocable.


[1] Cf. Second Vatican Council: Decree on the missionary activity of the Church: Ad gentes (= AG)., No. 7.


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