Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In all of the Scripture passages we have for today, there is one theme that stands out more than any other, that is, that all are welcome to follow the Lord. In Isaiah, for example, we hear that God is not just for the Hebrew people. On the contrary, God is for all people. We see this message in today’s Psalm (67), that God’s ways will be known to all nations. And in the selections from Romans and Matthew, we hear that God is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
This theme is that of inclusivity. And if anyone should be in favor of including all at the banquet table of the Lord it is we, Catholic Christians. After all, “catholic” means “universal.” We are the universal Church, not a nationalistic church. We are not an ethnic church. Therefore, Catholic Christians should always be on the forefront of welcoming all people to be part of the Body of Christ on Earth – the Church.
Unfortunately, however, throughout human history, we know that there has always been a strong tendency of people to exclude others. That is what we see in the following story told by Timothy Paul Jones.
There was once an eight-year old girl I’ll call Mary. A family had adopted her as a baby, but for some reason, they never really accepted her as an equal to their biological children. For example, though the family took their biological children to Disney World on occasion, they never took Mary. Mary always thought that the reason she never got to go to Disney World with the other children was because she was being punished for being disobedient in one way or another.
After raising Mary until she was eight years old, the family finally decided they needed to dissolve the adoption and give Mary to another family.
Fortunately, there was a man named Timothy who, with his wife, welcomed Mary into their home. They decided to treat her as they treated their biological children, giving her all the love a child could ever hope to have.
When Timothy heard all about Mary’s history in her previous family, he determined to take her and the rest of the family to Disney World the next time he had a business trip to the southeastern United States.
Soon, Timothy’s company told him he had a trip to Florida coming up in one month. Immediately, Timothy and his wife began making plans to go to Disney World while they were in Florida.
The month before going on the trip, Timothy and his wife found that Mary was continually getting into trouble. Most of the time, the trouble she caused didn’t make any sense to them. For example, she would steal food when all she would have needed to do was to ask for a snack, and her new parents would have gladly given her some. Or she would whisper insults to her older adopted sister just to hurt her for no apparent reason.
A couple of days before heading to Florida, Timothy took Mary onto his lap to talk with her about her misbehavior. She immediately said, “You aren’t going to take me to Disney World, are you?”
Actually, that thought had never crossed Timothy’s mind, but for a moment, he almost said, “Well, if you don’t behave, we won’t take you.” Fortunately, he did not say that. Instead, he said, “Well, Mary, is this trip something we are doing as a family?”
Mary nodded “yes,” her eyes wide and filled with tears.
Timothy then asked, “And are you part of this family?”
Mary nodded “yes” again.
“Then you are going with us. Sure, there may be some consequences to help you remember what’s right and what’s wrong, but you are part of our family, and we’re not leaving you behind.”
Mary’s behavior didn’t improve dramatically, but she was learning. For example, after the first full day at Disney World, as she snuggled into bed with her stuffed unicorn, Timothy asked, “So, Mary, how was your first day at Disney World?”
Mary answered, “Daddy, I finally got to go to Disney World. But it wasn’t because I was good. It’s because I’m yours.”
Timothy never forgot this profound message: “It wasn’t because I was good. It’s because I’m yours.” And, he reflected, isn’t that what grace is all about? God loves us not because we are good, but because we are his. All humans are God’s children, for there is only one creator. There are no exceptions to this statement.
Second, through the ages, many have tried to be exclusive instead of inclusive toward others. Even in our own day, there have been people who do not welcome people to their places of worship because of their social class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, relationship status, country of origin, primary language, or other characteristics.
Third, for Catholic Christians, exclusion is wrong. Of all people on Earth, we should welcome all people to worship the Lord, for all people are our brothers and sisters. After all, “catholic” means “universal.”
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how inclusive we are. Do we welcome all to our parish and the Catholic Church?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones. “Because I’m Yours: The
Little Girl Who finally Went to Disney World.” Proof: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.