20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
August 14, 2011

Somewhat irreverently, and embarrassingly, I might add, the image that comes to me as I prepare for this Sunday’s liturgy is the burger joint famous in California called “IN & OUT.” It markets itself as the quintessential “all-american burger,” with milk shakes and all, and everything else that more health-conscious individuals properly would not consider “kosher.” I must say that it is good … to the last bite, as they say … and what a bite one makes as one sinks his or her teeth willingly in the sandwich that has become a by-word all over the world!

In and out … The readings talk about being “in” – that is, belonging. It talks about the inclusivity of salvation as given by God. But they also talk about being “out” – being outside the original fold for which the Lord’s message and gift of salvation was originally intended. They talk about being both “in” and “out”  … “all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation, and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.” (1st reading).

We are both “in” and “out” right now. We are called to the same salvation. We are all entitled to join the believers as, indeed, we prayed right after the first reading: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” We believe. We belong. In the one Church. To the one Church of God founded by Christ.

But both have gradations and levels. We just don’t believe, period. We believe more or less, many a time. Just look at the number of those who claim to be “catholics” but who believe in not quite the same things as the Church officially teaches. Just look at us, still struggling to know all there is to know about our faith. Just look at one high-profile Filipino politician and lawmaker,  who, armed with an MA from a supposedly Catholic institution, speaks like as if Gustavo Gutierrez was the best thing that happened to post-Vatican II theology! Just look at him, who claims to be an artist, but whose best work so far, that he would like to pass off as “art,” is really nothing but a masked attack against those who believe truly and also belong!

There is more than just irreverence here … and definitely more than being tasteless and tactless … in images of Christ peppered with phallic images and condoms as to make buffoonery out of something sacrosanct and held dear by those who truly believe, whilst trying hard to really belong!

Even Christ was limited by boundaries. As a Jew and as a man, he did the unthinkable. He went out of his regular boundaries and wended his way to pagan territory. He it was, not the pagan woman, who crossed bounds. He it was, who sought out the “territory of Tyre and Sidon.” For this is what God is like, apparently, as we can glean from the behavior of the Lord. Though limited by boundaries, God is never bound by limits. He is never bound by culture, for one thing. He is not bound and enslaved by tradition. He goes out of his way, very literally. He allows himself to be talked to and addressed by a Canaanite woman – a pagan, and worst of all, a woman, talking to a Jew, a man, and, by any standard, a respectable Jewish man!

Let me tell you why, for all its seeming irreverence, I think of “In and Out” today. No … I don’t think hamburger. I really don’t salivate at the thought of it. It is not my kind of lunch or dinner, assuredly! Whilst I do get a bite of it each time I find myself in sunny California, I do it once, and forget about it for the rest of my time there … until providence once more leads me to where the likes are daily fare for the hoi polloi.

Let me tell you why then … I am “in” to be sure. I believe. I belong. But there are times when I feel “out.” When I suffer unjustly at the hands of men and women who ought to represent the compassionate love of God, the Father, and the fellowship with the Son and the Holy Spirit, I feel more than just odd. I feel myself “out.” When I see how cruel gossip and conjecture are liberally thrown here and there by otherwise respectable and believing people, I feel I simply want “out.”

When that clerical machinery called “envy” rears its ugly head and that monster called “ambition” both on my part and on the part of otherwise holy men and women religious and diocesan clergy surfaces, and politics, instead of participation, takes place in the Church that I love, I wish I were “out.”

When I sin, and do grievous things before the Lord, I know it better than anyone else … I am out. Or merely skimming on the surface … or staying on the fringes of the community that offers all salvation and respite.

Yes, I am “in and out.” Yes, you, too … we are all in it together … both in and out, at one time or another. See what envy could lead even well-meaning people to? Not even the disciples were spared. They had a sort of “scarcity mentality” and remonstrated with the Lord for helping out the distressed woman. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

But Christ wants us all in. God wants to spell Church with an I, n, c, l, u, s, i, v, and e.! Community … Church … God’s family is inclusive. Thought there are boundaries and limitations, God is not bound by limits at all. When He calls; when he loves; when He invites, He goes literally out of bounds, and crosses over to where the one who is totally out and out can be reached. St. Paul puts it so nicely: “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”

I am the first among those who feel “out” more than just occasionally. “The just man sins seven times a day.” I am the first among those who want “in” though. Praying hard. Begging God dearly for more understanding and compassion …  For more than just seven times daily, I am really both “in and out.”

I pray for the same compassion that He showed the Canaanite woman … and even as I often stand inside looking out, and wishing, for all the world, to be brought from the outside in, I long to hear one day from the Lord: “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish!”