Sermon :: August 20, 2017
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
[10[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
I want to be very upfront and honest with you all today. I’ve really been struggling. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to have hard conversations that are life giving but will be very difficult. Since the race riots in Charlottesville, VA, I’ve seen more hatred and fear in the lives of my friends and my timelines on social media. I’ve seen pictures of people waving tiki torches and screaming words of violence and hate and I’ve seen people supporting it. I’ve seen pictures of counter-protesters standing up to people waving swastikas and the Nazi salute. I’ve heard people speaking out against the white supremacy that has made itself known there. And then I read through our texts to today and I realize that I don’t get a free pass this week. I have to talk about this.
So let’s dive in. We basically have two different parts, so I’ll try to talk about them both. In our first part, we find Jesus telling the disciples and the crowds that words have a lot of power. Words have power. Like many of you, I grew up with the sentiment that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” Yet, what is our first attack when we feel threatened or abused? Words. Words have power. Words reveal our heart and our intentions. Words are a way to delegitimize and discredit the opinions of others. Words have the power to enslave. Jesus tells us that “out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” That alone should make us pause and think about what we hear and say in our world today.
The second part is really where I get the most disturbed in our reading. We find Jesus traveling on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia, where the Canaanites lived. The Canaanites were the people who lived in Israel before the Hebrew people came in and took it away. They killed and drove out cities and villages and claimed it for their own. So, you can assume that there was some hard feelings. Still, though, Jesus’ reputation for healing and teachings seems to have spread, and a woman comes to him, calling him “Lord” and “Son of David”. He calls to him and tells him that her daughter needs healing. Now, generally, we tend to see Jesus answer the call and perform a miracle for the people who ask of him. But this time his first response is to basically ignore her. Only after his disciples become annoyed with her following them does he stop to exchange words with her. He calls her a dog, an insult to her, and tells her that he was sent only for the people of Israel.
But I think we should pause here before we go on. This is not the Jesus I’m used to seeing. This is not the Christ I think of. I’m used to the Jesus we find with the woman at the well in John 4. I’m used to the man who said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” I’m used to the man who went to the cross for the world. But up until this point in Matthew, what we see is a localized Messiah, a man who is interested in the affairs of his country, his race, and no others. No doubt, he inherited this from his upbringing – he was raised in a nation that felt like God was theirs and no one else’s. He was Jewish and cared for the Jews. But his worldview was confronted by this woman’s need and the faith that he was, in fact, more than that. He is more than just a political figure. He is more than a wandering preacher and healer. He is more than just some national celebrity. He is Emmanuel, God with us – us, all of us. And it seems, in a moment, in the humility of a Canaanite woman, that he woke up to this reality.
It’s easy to try to justify his behavior and say that he was testing her, making sure her faith was in the right place before he would heal her daughter. But I see no evidence of that. It seems to me that we see Jesus’ humanity at work; we see in his first interactions with her our own tendencies to build walls, shut people out, claim the highroad but take the low, to look out for “me and mine”. But something in her story, something in this interaction changes him. It seems to awaken in him an awe of faith, maybe even an awe of God, and a glimpse into his part in the Kingdom. This is not the Jesus that we typically see and it’s not the Jesus I like seeing, if I’m honest.
But the gospel brings good news. And this good news is good news for everyone, not just those on the inside. This is good news for those on the outside, for the marginalized, oppressed, and vulnerable. It’s good news for us, surely, because, as far as I know, none of us are Jewish. But on a grander scale, it’s good news for those who stand up to abuses of power and of violence.
Through Jesus’ interactions with this unnamed, foreign woman, we see a few different things. First off, we see that change is possible. In the midst of this conversation, we see Jesus pivot and his worldview open up. Shortly after this passage, we find Jesus feeding 4000 people (most of whom were likely not Hebrews) and Jesus beginning to clash with the religious authorities. Through this conversation, we find that Jesus has changed. And if Jesus can change, then followers of Jesus will find themselves changing, too. God loves you just as you are, but love rarely leaves us the same as we were.
The other thing we see is that God’s love and faith are not limited to people who look, think, and act just like us. In fact, it seems, by the end of this passage, that Jesus begins to actively invite people in who once were marginalized and oppressed. He refused to let gender, racial, or geographical barriers be a barrier from his love. And followers of Christ will do the same. It is impossible to follow Christ and support any cause which would judge people based upon their race, gender, language, and maybe even faith. This woman was a different religion, yet Christ told her that he had not seen such faith even in Israel.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I hope we can remember this. I hope that we can speak out against hatred and violence. I hope that we follow Christ to the aid of the oppressed and abused. I hope that we can remember Christ’s sacrifice and love for the world and that we would treat all people, all creation, with the same love and respect. We live in a time of destruction, but we live in a time of creation, too. Let us follow Christ’s example and may God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.