Central Idea: God’s grace helps us see beyond the differences, to welcome those who are different and alien.
The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD…I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer;
Us vs. Them
It was the first and only time in his 34 year military career that Adrian Sauer was ever in a war zone. His job was to relay information from one spot to the next. And, make no mistake about it, he was a sitting duck. He rode in an open jeep with his semi-automatic rifle, with gunfire all around him. Where was he exactly? On an island in the Pacific? No. Amidst the hedgerows of France? No. In the jungles of Vietnam? Nope. He was in a mere eighty miles away from his hometown, in one of the most dangerous of all places, New Jersey. Newark, New Jersey to be precise.
In the hot angry summer of 1967, Newark NJ was indeed a war zone. Racial tension had exploded as years of fury and rage erupted in the cities and streets across America. And Adrien Sauer’s National Guard unit that humid and contentious summer was thrown smack dab into the midst of the fray. It was combat. It was war.
It was Us vs. Them.
Sauer’s unit was called to a building that was suspected to be housing several of the rioters. The state police had their firepower leveled at the building and the Sauer’s National Guard unit was brought in. Bring tear gas. Bring machine guns. Bring hand grenades. The works. Newark was a tinder box that only needed a small spark to detonate. Us vs. Them.
The jumpy state police had a “hair trigger” mentality, ready at the slightest provocation to commence the barrage. But Adrian, known as Big Ade, had a different strategy. He challenged the police’s position and outlook. “What makes you think there are no innocent civilians in there? Hold your fire, and let me check it out.” Sauer volunteered to wander into No Man’s Land and scout out the site.
Now Big Ade was no fool, he stayed low and stealthy as he made his way to front door of the building. You could cut the tension with a knife, yet Sauer was calm as he announced who he was, whom he was with and that he was willing to lead anyone inside out to safety. The door slowly edged open. Out came twenty-five African American teenagers, shaking and frightened, led by Sauer with one arm comforting them, and with the other telling the police to hold their fire.
Instead of bloodshed and death that fateful day, one man’s decision, one man’s courage, one man’s vision, one man’s determination to show respect and compassion, led to peace.
Us vs. Them? Not that day. There was only Us.
I think we human beings possess a natural tendency for division and separation. Like it or not, human beings gather in groups. We root for the home team like when we watch the Olympics. We form our own little cliques. We congregate and cluster with others of a like mind. A certain amount this, is expected and even acceptable. Face it, you cannot be everyone’s best friend.
But at times – like possibly now here in 2020 – we can get so involved in our little circle, so wrapped up in “us” that we can become exclusive, select and elite. Even worst, we can begin to think that our group, our crowd is better than the rest. We can become snobbish, we can become arrogant, we can think of ourselves as better. Apparently, even Jesus in his human nature, was prone to this. In our gospel, a foreigner comes up to him asking him to heal her daughter, and Jesus’ response is not only shocking, it is practically scandalous. At first, he seems to ignore her. And when she keeps insisting, he says – somewhat coldly, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Ultimately however, her persistence pays off, but it is clear that even our Lord, in his human nature, dealt with human biases.
Like I said: “Us vs. Them” drills down deep into our souls.
Nevertheless, the Scriptures, the good news today reminds us to have an openness, a boldness and a compassion toward the outsider, the foreigner, the alien. Isaiah announces that the nations, the goyim, the “them-people” have a place in the heart of God. St. Paul reiterates that notion as he becomes a minister to the Gentiles. And most amazing, Jesus shows surprise and wonder at the faith of the Canaanite woman, showing once and for all that the “us-people” have neither a monopoly on the truth nor on God’s gracious love.
The reason should be obvious. The “them-people” are not really “them-people” at all, they are, in fact, our brothers and sisters, co-heirs of the Kingdom of God with us.
Right now young people are starting at new schools. They are the outsiders, the foreigners, the “them-people” to their school communities. Yet, these newbies bring new life blood, new talents, new gifts, new vigor, new life into their respective schools. Nevertheless, for a while at least, they will feel like aliens, like immigrants. It will be difficult, it will feel strange, they will be off balance. As uncomfortable as this will be, we’ve all been there. I felt that way moving to Holy last year. Here’s the key: Reflect on that, ponder it, jump into that experience. A wise man once said that: Life is a succession of freshmen years. I believe what that means is that there are always new and exciting, strange and awkward experiences we face. The people who sense this and absorb it the most keenly are the ones who will eventually guide others, they are the Adrian Sauer’s of our world. They are the ones that see only “us.”
Adrian Sauer died in the summer of 2001. At his wake, his son Rich first heard of the story that I just told you. His father never boasted about it. Nevertheless, it left an impression. The bottom line in the story was that Sauer was open and willing to see what others flatly refused to see.
He opened himself up to compassion.
He was courageous when others only knew fear.
He looked beyond Us vs. Them.
And that made all the difference in the world.