“The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.” Our Psalm response this Sunday seems common-sense to our modern ears, but it can be good for us to remember how revolutionary such a broad-minded idea was in Old Testament times. In the ancient world, each tribe had their own private gods, and battle between tribes was often interpreted as a battle between the gods of those tribes. A victorious army of Carthage might give praise to Marduk for their victory, but when the Romans conquered Carthage, Marduk was displaced, and worship of Jupiter took its place. In many ways, local religions were to ancient peoples much like modern sports fandom. My Minnesota family are naturally Twins fans, but my St. Louis-born brother-in-law bleeds Cardinals red. No amount of cajoling will convert him, but we love him anyway.
The God of Israel, the LORD, is fundamentally different from the tribal gods of antiquity. When God revealed Himself to Moses, He identified Himself as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” so we could be tempted to localize God in the usual way. Yet, when making the first covenant with Abraham, God promised to bless all the nations through Abraham and his descendants. We might be territorial, but God is not. Even the Scriptures themselves make it clear that God has always been the only God, God of all creation, maker of heaven and earth and all that is. All humanity belongs to God’s tribe, and through the history of the People of Israel, we see this universality of God come into focus slowly over time. The healing of Naaman the Syrian in our first reading proves that anyone who petitions God can be heard, even those not connected with Israel. The gratitude of the Samaritan former-leper in the Gospel drives home God’s universal love, even for the historic enemies of Israel. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus specifically commissions His disciples to: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
Our readings this Sunday can serve to remind us not to become too possessive of God’s love. Do we think of God as exclusively ours? Do we act as if God’s gifts are only for us and our chosen few friends? Is there perhaps someone in our lives who needs to hear the Gospel or share in the healing love of God? God loves them, too, and God might be inviting us to share that love with these other “tribes” in our lives. God’s saving power has been revealed to the nations; are we willing to be part of that revelation? Are we willing to share the gift of our faith with others without counting the cost? Are we willing to commit our resources to evangelization and outreach to those outside of our parish or tribe? May God grant us the grace to open our hearts to all peoples, especially those in need who are closest to us.