8/20/2017 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one of the most confusing and yet most profound passages in the Bible as Jesus has to deal personally with the question of who is included and who is not within the framework of his mission and ministry to the world. Are there insiders and outsiders or is Jesus’ work to include everyone? Is everyone worthy of God’s grace and mercy or is God’s grace and mercy reserved to only a few chosen people, a few who are predestined to receive it?
As people, we make calculated judgments regarding others – who is worthy and who is not; who is in and who is out. As true human, Jesus wasn’t above this. Like all of us he had blinders that kept him confined to his understanding of his mission and ministry until the human dilemma confronted him in the form of a woman from Canaan. For us, the blinders that keep us from seeing the truth about the world around us come in a variety of forms.
One such encounter came to a family of five as they were enjoying their day at the beach. The children were playing in the ocean and making sand castles when in the distance a little old lady appeared. Her gray hair was blowing in the wind and her clothes were dirty and ragged. She was muttering something to herself as she picked up things from the beach and put them into a bag. The parents called the children to their side and told them to stay away from the old lady. As she passed by, bending down every now and then to pick something up, she smiled at the family. But her greeting wasn’t returned.
Couple weeks later this family learned that little old lady was a retired school teacher who’d made it her lifelong crusade to pick up bits of glass from the beach so children wouldn’t cut their feet. And as she picked up the broken glass, she prayed for the people who had dropped it, even though she didn’t know who they were. (Billy D. Strayhorn, From the Pulpit, CSS Publishing Company)
We live in a very strange world. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross so that we might know the love, forgiveness and acceptance of our God. And yet, we jump to conclusions about people because of how they look, where they live or the type of work that they do. We forget that we are all equal in eyes of God.
I am no better than you. You are no better than me. We are no better than the person begging on the street corner. The color of our skin makes no difference. Our gender and sexual orientation makes no difference. The language we speak makes no difference. The number of tattoos and piercings makes no difference. For, we are all equal in eyes of God.
I wish we lived in a world of acceptance instead of a world polarized by extremes. I wish we lived in a world where our unity was celebrated at least as much as our differences. I wish I lived in a world without hate, without prejudice, without all the “isms” that have sprung up over the last few decades. But, I don’t. I live in a world in which sides are taken and heaven forbid if you should stand in the middle.
As a person who often finds herself on the middle ground, I am an enigma to others, especially to those who are friends. I listen and I keep my silence as I my words will fall on deaf ears. I live in a gray world where they live in a world that is black and white and never the twain shall meet. I live in a world in which some call our president evil because they disagree with him, and others think he’s the best thing since sliced bread. And, I? I am said to be naïve because I don’t stand in solidarity to either proclamation. I have problems understanding such one-sided rhetoric for although the last president I found to be my cup of tea to be Ronald Reagan, I have never referred to a president as being a new Hitler nor as some sort of savior. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi, a born-again Christian, or a redneck. Not everyone who voted for Clinton is an educated elite, a left-wing radical or a socialist. But in a black and white world, neither side can accept the other.
Instead of a world of love, forgiveness and acceptance, I live in a world where I am pressured to conform. I live in a world where some are on the inside and others are on the outside, wondering how to get in. I live in a world where division has existed from the time of creation to today.
Many years ago, C.S. Lewis in his essay, The Inner Ring, wrote this: “in any playground or office or church, there are little groups or rings of people who are on the “inside”. And those who aren’t: those who don’t get picked at playtime, those who stand on their own in the lunchroom.” Lewis says that the existence of such rings is not necessarily bad. We’re finite beings, and we can only have deeply intimate friendships with a limited number of people. But he says that the desire to gain status or self-worth by being part of an “inner ring” is deeply destructive. It causes you to constantly compare yourself with others, to feel anguish when you’re left out, and deeper anguish when someone close to you gets let in. Worst of all, once you’re in, you want to keep others out, because it’s the exclusive nature of the group that makes you feel good.
Jesus’ disciples wrestled with that desire to be part of the inner ring. They argued over who should have the seats closest to Jesus. They asked Jesus to bring down fire on pagan villages. They rebuked little children for coming in too close and wasting Jesus’ time. Jesus must have often shaken his head because he was constantly teaching about who was in and who was out, about God’s desire to bring into the inner ring of his love anyone who will come. (John Tucker, Breaking Down Barriers: Inclusion) And that included one pesky woman of Canaan.
We know so little of this woman in today’s Gospel other than the fact that she came from the country to the north of Palestine, a country hostile to the Jews. She had at least one child; but that’s all we know about her. We don’t know whether she was a good woman or a bad woman. We don’t know her name. All we know is that Jesus immortalized her with 4 words: Great is your faith.
Jesus didn’t say these words very often. He never said them to Peter, James, and John. In fact, he would often say to them: You of little faith. What makes this woman stand out from the crowd wasn’t her need. Others of need flocked to him for help. What made this woman stand out from the crowd wasn’t even her persistence. There were others who would not let Jesus send them off empty handed. And while Jesus would proclaim that their faith had made them well, he did not say the words: Great is your faith.
What made this woman’s faith stand out was her insistence that she, even she, was worthy of Jesus’ attention and compassion. She may not have been an insider to the disciples who saw her as a pesky outsider. She didn’t even met Jesus’ initial criteria as she was proclaimed to be outside his area of mission and ministry. Yet, in faith she was willing to eat the crumbs, knowing that would be enough to satisfy her need. For, she, too, was a child of God…unequal in the eyes of the insiders, yet equal in the eyes of the God. And with this encounter, Jesus’ ministry is opened to all…for faith enabled the divine nature to overcome the blinders of humanity.
Sadly, I live in a world that doesn’t understand what this woman of Canaan understood. I live in a world which is becoming more violently divided each day as people can’t see beyond their differences. I pray for the grace and mercy of God to reach down and heal our ills. For, although we may not all agree, we are equal in the eyes of God. Help us, dear Lord, in our struggle and grant us the faith of an outsider from Canaan. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.