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The Courage to Speak

August 20, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

August 20, 2017
Matthew 15:21-28
Fr. George Smiga

It’s been a difficult week: violence and death in Charlottesville, violence and death in Barcelona, concrete reminders that we live in a polarized and embattled world in which we are feeling less and less safe. The media is full of accusations, denunciations, and blame. What stance should we take as Christians in such an environment? The Canaanite woman in today’s gospel provides a direction. In a setting of fear she speaks what she believes is true. This woman believed that Jesus could cure her daughter, and so she cries out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” To make this request she had to overcome the fear she would not be heard because she was a woman in a male-dominated society and the fear she would be rejected because she was a Canaanite woman seeking help from a Jew. Yet even after Jesus’ initial rebuff, she continues to cry out, “Lord, help me!”

This Canaanite woman is an example to us, the example of courage to speak truth in a setting of fear. What is the truth we believe? You can answer this question as well as I can. We know that Jesus is opposed to violence. He teaches that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He asks us to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. So when people in our family, our workplace, or school begin to suggest that a particular person or group should be shot, attacked, or hurt, we need to find the courage to speak out and say, “No, that is not what I believe as a Christian.” We believe that Jesus came to save all people and that every person is a son or daughter of God. So when people around us begin to imply that any particular race, religion, sexual orientation, or culture is evil and deserves our hate, we need to find the courage to say, “No, that is not what I believe as a Christian.”

The biggest mistake we could make is to think that the issues of violence and hatred do not apply to us. We cannot say it is not my problem because I don’t live in Charlottesville or Barcelona. I am not a Jew or a Moslem. When it comes to issues of hatred and racism, history has amply shown that we either stand or fall together. An attack against any particular group is an attack against us all.

During Adolph Hitler’s rise to power, many Germans decided to keep quiet and see what would happen. They watched as the Nazis targeted one group after another for elimination. The ineffectiveness of this silent approach has been immortalized in the words of Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor. He writes:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Like the Canaanite woman, we need to find the strength and courage to speak the truth of what we believe in a fearful situation. We must speak Jesus’ message of nonviolence, inclusion, and acceptance. We must speak out for others, because we stand or fall together.

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