Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 16, 2020:
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 56:1, 6-7
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
2) Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Gospel: Mt 15:21-28
What do we gain by excluding people?
Today’s readings spur me to think about our family becoming white.
My grandfather Saverio came from southern Italy to New York at the beginning of the last century. He met Rose, a native New Yorker, who lived in the tenement next door. They fell in love and got married.
For marrying an Italian immigrant, the law of the time stripped Rose of her citizenship. The lawmakers welcomed Italians for their labor but didn’t want them to settle here. Nana could no longer vote.
Clearly, Italians — and Italian Americans who married them — were not white. White society’s attitude to such people could be summed up with an adaptation of the disciples’ words about a foreigner in today’s gospel: “Send them away.”
Fifty years later, their younger son — my dad — and my mom bought a house in a New Jersey suburb. The family in the house whose back yard abutted ours was Black.
Their street, one over from ours, was in the little neighborhood in town where Black families were allowed to buy houses — a minighetto. The contrast between our freedom and their lack of it demonstrated that the Perrottas were now white.
How convenient for us. How inconvenient for our Black neighbors. They were still back there in the category my grandparents had been in: “Your labor is wanted, but not you.” I wonder how the children who grew up on the next street fared in life. Their prospects were not so good. And what about their grandchildren today?
Even more, I wonder, What is it about us humans? We seem to be hard-wired for a kind of group thinking: “If you’re part of my group, I welcome you — but not if you’re part of that other group. Our group is superior, your group is inferior. We control you; you don’t control us.”
I would like to suppose that this kind of thinking has ebbed somewhat in our society over the past few decades. But, of course, I do my supposing from the position of someone whose family has become white.
I do believe that God’s word can change us. In today’s reading from Isaiah, God says, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord … I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
“All peoples.” Let’s think about that.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages.