August 17, 2014 –– 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 / Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 / Matthew 15:21-28
Macro and Micro Salvation
We frequently hear the words macro and micro in a technological context of some kind, but today’s Gospel brings these two concepts into a biblical and theological focus. Just to be clear, “macro” refers to the largest scale and “micro” to the smallest scale.
If you think about it, both of these are the object of God’s concern in the Scriptures. The Psalmist juxtaposes the two when he writes: When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than God, and you crown him with glory and honor (8:3-5). From the macro heavens to the micro individual person, God is intricately involved.
It is important to see this distinction when we turn our attention to salvation. Sometimes the Scriptures address macro salvation––the big picture. Sometimes the focus is more on micro salvation––the individual person. In the first reading, the Lord says My salvation is about to come. This has the macro perspective of a panoramic scope. Here we are reminded that God has been at work in what we call Salvation History for longer than we can comprehend. Salvation is a BIG thing, and it belongs to God. I hope you know the comfort of a salvation that is bigger than you are. While we do have a response to make, salvation is something God has initiated. It is God himself who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4).
Yet God has created us with the privilege (and responsibility) of true choice. It takes time and considerable drama for God both to save us and at the same time honor human decisions. God does not force our personal salvation, and he even allows us to choose evil (and how well we should know that!).
The Romans reading is dealing with the huge issue of salvation among Jews and non-Jews. The details of God’s promises and purposes were first revealed and offered through Abraham and his physical descendants. Those promises are still important. St Paul affirms that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. This is macro––big picture––salvation. It does not mean, though, on the micro level, that every single Jewish person is going to embrace the promises of God.
It is important to grasp these two perspectives when we come to today’s Gospel story. It appears that Jesus is totally out of character––seemingly cold and non-compassionate. He refuses to answer the woman’s cry. Then, he tells her his mission is only to Israelites. Finally, he implies she is a “dog” (which was an epithet commonly used back then for non-Israelites). Is this our loving Savior?
Yes. First, he was testing her. (How many of us get what we ask of the Lord after the first prayer?!) Second, Jesus is keeping his primary mission in focus. In order to bring salvation to a single Canaanite woman––or you and me––he must first accomplish that for which he was sent: to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In other words, Jesus was in the world first of all to work salvation on the macro level in the unfolding plan of God––his death and resurrection for the salvation of the whole world.
But it was not all of one and none of the other. In other words, Jesus modeled micro salvation (mercy for the individual) even as he did everything necessary for macro salvation (unleashing righteousness for all people). If you think about it, it could be no other way: the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God’s salvation works on the micro level because it has been secured on the macro level. And because God has chosen on the macro level to save, it means that you and I––on the micro level––can have confidence in the mercy and grace of God.
We see a great picture of this in the Canaanite woman. She believed Jesus was Lord––the Son of David sent to bring salvation. Because she believed this, this woman would not be deterred. She was desperate. Any parent who has agonized over the need of a child understands. Somehow this mother was able to understand: “Jesus, as you fulfill your destiny as Savior of the world, let some of that grace spill over right now on my need.” In the big picture of salvation, you and I are part of the detail. The huge grace of God is for little ol’ you and me.
Are you discouraged? Do you sometimes wonder if God knows you are here? Is your guilt or pain or bewilderment so big that you feel swallowed up? I repeat something from last time: Jesus knows that when we are vulnerable we are most open to God. Sometimes a hard thing is the very thing that gets us beyond our own agenda so that we can receive the grace we need.
In the big sweeping work of God––his macro salvation––there is a place for each one of us. Personal faith draws us into God’s great salvation on the micro level. What is man that you are mindful of him? ….you crown him with glory and honor. In the big plan of God, there is a place for you.