We live in a world where anything "universal" is very difficult to affirm. The lives people live are drastically different in different parts of the world. We joke about "first world problems" when trying to figure out what to get at Starbucks, while others in other parts of the world are trying to decide not what to eat, but who in the family gets to eat because there is not enough. We argue about who should be able to get guns while others in the world flee for their lives from violence. We wrestle with elective surgery while others in other parts of the world die from preventable diseases because no medical care is available.
Granted, we in the USA are not the only ones with such privilege, and not all of us have it to the same degree, but for most of us our lives aren't as stark as many lives in the rest of the world. So what does our "unity in Christ"--our call to be a universal Church--mean in a world with such drastic differences?
This is not a new dilemma. The passage from Matthew 15:10-28 has two different scenes, with two drastically different life-contexts. The first is privileged religious leaders being concerned over an attitude that Jesus has that they quibble with, although they find it to be a significant enough quarrel to push him on it. He pushes back. The second is a Canaanite woman, who by virtue of being Canaanite is NOT privileged as relates to Jesus' religious heritage--and by virtue of being a woman is NOT privileged in really anyone's cultural heritage in that era. Her daughter needs to be healed, which you would think matters more in anyone's big picture than any of the other realities of her life. At first it seems that Jesus is still preoccupied with the previous argument, because his response to her is from his position of privilege over against her position of non-privilege, both because of his superior position religiously and as a male. She calls him on it--doesn't the life or death of her daughter matter more?
And Jesus realizes that it does. And attributes her calling him on it to her faith being great.
Perhaps our faith needs to be great enough to see that which connects all of us, rather than that which causes us to be different by the categories that WE assign? Maybe that is what being a universal, inclusive church is all about?
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13 He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15 But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16 Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26 He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27 She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28 Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.