When we first start to read the pages of the bible we get the impression that God is dealing simply with the Hebrew nation. The early accounts tell us about the history of the Jews and how they were God’s promised people, living in a land given them when they were led from slavery. Not many other nations get much of a good press.
But the middle section of the Book of Isaiah, written much later by a distant pupil of the original prophet, (and sometimes called Deutero or Second Isaiah) starts to show a realisation that God has other plans. And in today’s first reading we hear very plainly that foreigners will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. This was revolutionary and revolting to some Jewish ears.
The idea that God does not limit his promises to just certain categories of people is known as Universalism and we see it once more today when Jesus speaks to the Canaanite woman. It’s not where she comes from that matters, her nationality is irrelevant. Jesus praises her for the quality of her faith and then he cures her daughter.
Nowhere in scripture can we find any evidence of God turning his back on someone just because they didn’t fit the bill. There is no support for a God who leaves people wanting when they call on him in good faith. In fact God exudes inclusiveness. God is a gatherer rather than a scatterer, an integrator rather than an excluder.
On Sundays we profess our faith during the Creed in a Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. We may be a migrant community; we may be a settled suburban group worshipping in a parish that has been established for years and years; we maybe multi-racial; we may be all one colour or a rainbow of faces.
But what unites us is that we are baptised members of a “catholic” Church. And catholic means nothing more than universal. The opposite of catholic is not Protestant. The opposite of catholic is exclusive. So if we’re ever tempted to feel that our congregations are becoming too varied, or to hive ourselves off into some sort of sub-group then we have lost a grip on our catholicity.
I want “foreigners” to come and place their gift on the altar, says God through Isaiah today.
And, of course, we are somebody else’s foreigner!