2 Corinthians 8:7-15
There are some places in our world so evil, that the very ground you walk upon can drain you of hope. Places where cruelty is the norm, where persons are transformed into numbers, and where good people say nothing.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of those places. While the deceptive grass now hides the crimes committed in the name of the nation, you don’t have to dig too deep before you find the ashes.
These ashes stand forever as a cry of despair and a warning to humanity: never again. Never again must a national ideology take precedent over a person’s right to life. Never again can we as citizens and as Christians turn our faces from the other’s plight.
It’s a lesson sorely learned. But as we prepare to celebrate Canada Day this Sunday, I think we have to ask ourselves, have we learned it? Can we as Christians and as citizens celebrate the nation with bonfires and fireworks, after the fires of the crematorium? And which Canada will we be celebrating?
When Auschwitz-Birkenau was still inhabited by the living dead, there stood within its barbed wire fences a wooden barracks, a meager morsel of hope in a land of hunger and tears. The prisoners called it Canada.
The Nazi’s used this barrack as a storage house for the goods the victims brought with them to the gas chambers. It was filled to the brim with gold teeth, silver spoons, menorahs, family photographs, and even the occasional stale crumb of bread.
If an inmate was lucky, she might be assigned to work in this barrack, sparing her hard labour and giving her the opportunity to discover extra food amongst the goods. And so, the emaciated prisoners named this barrack Canada, for our country was to them a land of plenty, a land of safety, and a land of hope.
If you could just get to Canada, you would have more food to eat.
If you could just get to Canada, you would be beaten less.
If you could but touch its borders, you would be made well.
This was the Canada that they celebrated.
For most of them, the dream was as close as they would come to our shores. When a few of them did come, outraged that they came without an invitation, we sent them back. In the words of our government at that time: “none is too many.”
So, as Christians and as citizens, which Canada are we celebrating today? Canada as a land of plenty, Canada as a land of safety, Canada as a land of hope for those seeking refuge? Or, Canada as a land where the uninvited stranger is turned away, where “none is too many.”
As Christians, bound to following Jesus on the way, this mornings Gospel text provides us with an answer.
Jesus the miracle worker has accepted a request, an invitation to provide healing. He is on his way to the house of Jarius, whose daughter is gravely ill. But while he is on his way, something happens, which no one could have predicted.
A woman, a hemroging woman, a suffering woman, sees Jesus walking in the crowed. She’s a desperate woman: tormented by both her illness, and its treatment. Her condition makes her ritually unclean, a social and religious outcast.
This woman sees our Lord Jesus, and friends, she doesn’t wait for an invitation, she doesn’t submit her case for consideration, she sees our Lord, and she knows, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
She seeks refuge. She reaches out. She touches his cloak and she is made well.
Jesus responds to this uninvited healing not with accusation, but with celebration: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed from your dieses.”
And friends, Jesus’ healing doesn’t stop there, Jesus continues on to Jarius’ house, and heals his daughter, because God’s power to bring new life isn’t defined by scarcity.
Through the faith of the Hemorrhaging woman seeking refuge, Jesus is revealed as a God of plenty, a God of safety, and a God of hope. A God not where none is too many, but a God where many is still too few.
St. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians takes up this ethic of plentiful provision, of providing security and hope to those in need, and he commends it to the church:
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you […] not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.”
This is, St. Paul tells us, the test of the genuineness of our love and of our faith: whether we are able to negotiate a fair balance between our present abundance and the other’s need. So that, ‘The one who has much does not have too much, and the one who has little does not have too little.’
This is to be our ethic, as Christians, and as citizens. And how we live out that ethic, will determine which Canada we celebrate today: a land of plenty, a land of safety, and a land of hope for the stranger in need; or, a fearful land, in which none is too much.
Which Canada will we celebrate?
Three days ago, our government passed a law that will result in the deportation of a significant number of refugees. Many will be met by persecution upon return; some will face torture and death. This same law has also removed health care coverage from refugees: denying insulin to diabetics, preventing pregnant women from having doctors or midwives at their deliveries.
These people have come to us, without invitation, but with the faith that if they can but touch our borders, they will be made well.
They may not come to us with wealth, they may not speak our language, but as Mary Jo Leddy writes, “they have brought a modest hope in the country, the hope that we could be a good country, a just country.”
May God enable us to live up to their expectations. Amen.
Jeffrey Metcalfe is a deacon in the Diocese of Quebec and is currently serving as the assistant curate at Church of the Redeemer, Toronto. He is a co-editor of Catholic Commons.