At Home. Sermon. August 16, 2020
Today’s reading is one of those stories about an encounter with Jesus that takes us off guard. This is not the Jesus that we are accustomed to. This is not the Jesus that we know to be full of grace and love for and especially to the weak and lowly; the outcast. We have been taught that Jesus came to save all people and delights especially in the faith of those unsuspecting souls. But as some noted on Wednesday evening, this Jesus appears to be rude and standoffish to put it nicely, and discriminatory and prejudiced to be real.
First, we hear of the stark difference between the clean and unclean, the haves and the have nots, the entitled and the undeserving. And if that’s not enough, then we hear Jesus making comparisons of certain people to dogs who beg; specifically a woman of color who is the seemingly from the wrong heritage.
What has Matthew done with our Jesus?
As my yoga instructor says on Monday mornings on Zoom, “you can stay here in this stretch, or you can dig a little deeper.” So I challenge us to go a little deeper. But when I say go deeper, I am not suggesting that we excuse Jesus’ behavior or responses, at least not yet, but that we seek to understand what Matthew is trying to teach us about this Jesus and Jesus’ love.
So I’d like for you to imagine a gate with a gatekeeper. One side of the gate is for the in-crowd. The other side, then, in for those who don’t belong. On one side of the gate are the disciples, who in the past few weeks of our lectionary are having a hard time grasping the significance of this Jesus. “We don’t have anything to feed these people, Jesus, so send them home to feed themselves.” But, instead, Jesus shows them how to feed the crowd. And then in a storm as Jesus invites Peter out on the water with him, Peter starts, then sinks. As Jesus pulls him out of the water, he comments on Peter’s “little faith.” Immediately before Jesus meets the Canaanite woman, the disciples are worried that Jesus is not following the law and the Pharisees are angry with him. This prompts Jesus to say that it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of mouth that defiles because it comes from the heart.
On the other side of the gate is the outsider. She is a woman of color, a widow, poor, and in great need. But there is a barrier that has kept her and all like her out; be it social status, economic, cultural, political, or religious.
And Jesus shows up. Instantly, the woman, the outsider, cries for mercy. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David,” she cries. But not for her… “Heal my daughter from the demons that possess her.” And she kneels before Jesus as if to acknowledge his very Kingship; His Lordship.
On the other side of the gate are the disciples, aggravated and agitated. “Send her away, Jesus! She’s bothering us!” they shout.
On the other side of the gate, the woman kneels and cries out over and over, “Lord, help me.”
“Get rid of her, Jesus!” the disciples shout repeatedly. “She doesn’t belong here! O rather, you Jesus, don’t belong here! You’re supposed to be with us! The chosen ones! Why are we here?”
“You must help me, Lord!” she continues. Perhaps from the hardships she has endured throughout her life, the woman is persistent.
Can you hear the holy chaos?!?! The tug of war for Jesus?!?! Now just earlier in Jesus’ ministry we learn that Jesus is moved by great compassion to heal the sick and feed the hungry. And he saves his disciples from perishing in the storm. But what we hear from Jesus’ mouth is chastising of the woman, repeating the disciples’ plea that he has only come to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In other words, “You’re not my problem.”
Now let’s take a time out here before we gasp in unbelief of our hearing. While these words are cutting and seem to be urging the woman on to beg for mercy, maybe that’s exactly what is going on. But not for the reasons that we might perceive.
You see, the disciples don’t get Jesus. They don’t get that Jesus has crossed the borders and barriers of all of life to encounter this outsider. Jesus enters into her space. So when He says he has come only for the lost sheep of Israel (and he has made it quite clear that there a lot of work to do for the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few), perhaps his words are not for her, but for the ears of his followers as they witness at the same time, that he has crossed boundaries.
You see, Jesus is standing between them looking into their hearts. And what he sees is folks who have all the blessings of the Son of David, but don’t fully recognize Him or the blessings they receive. One the other side, Jesus sees a heart that is full of faith without witness. Even she knows that she does not need the full feast at the table, but only a morsel, a crumb of Mercy is enough from the Son of David. Now whether it’s her persistence that creates her faith, or her faith that makes her persistent, what seems to be evident, is that Jesus rewards her persistence.
Here is a story that takes us off guard. Is this the Jesus we know? Perhaps you know this Jesus better than we think. When have you fallen on your knees and begged Jesus for mercy in your life? When have you persistently cried out for help? And when have you knowingly or unknowingly received blessings of abundance or even just morsels of love and grace and mercy that are just enough?
Here’s what I wonder. Is this a God who delights in our persistence? Not in a power-hungry way – but delights in the relationship that develops when we persistently come to Jesus and cry out in faith. Faith – be it so great or small – is a faith that believes there is no one else or anything else that can hear our prayer and act, but this Jesus, this Son of David, this One who is the Lord of all. My friends, may we all have such a faith. Amen.
Be well. Be safe. Be hope. prL