I speak to you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen
Today’s readings weave together themes of inclusivity, faith, humility, and the transforming power of God’s love. If we listen, we will hear God offering mercy to all.
The psalmist asks that God be merciful and bless us. This psalm is an expression of joy and thanksgiving because the psalmist knew that God judges everyone equally. The psalmist asks for God’s blessing for ‘all the ends of the earth’. We are all one and equal with no borders or ethnic differences win God’s eyes. As we pray let’s pray for the well-being of all people.
Last week we heard the story of Peter’s lack of faith when he walked on water and, upon realizing what he was doing began to sink, and reached out to Jesus to save him. That’s quite the opposite to today’s gospel. We hear the Canaanite women beseeching Jesus to heal her daughter.
We expect Jesus to reach out to her, have mercy on her and save her daughter, right? That’s what Jesus does. That’s what we love about our savior.
It would be very unusual for Jewish people to cross into the gentile region as they hated one another. Jesus took this little excursion outside Jewish territory, and we don’t know why although Jesus often did the unexpected. Perhaps God led him there as a teaching moment. Jesus was human and it looks like Jesus didn’t understand his entire mission.
We also have a woman who yells to Jesus. How dare she approach Jesus! Women had no standing at all.
When this Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter the disciples try to send her away. Jesus was not helpful to her either as he didn’t respond to her request. Of course, this is what the disciples expected. Jesus was sent to the Jewish people and certainly not for those outside. She wasn’t Jewish so how dare she ask for Jesus’ help.
She was not going to take NO for an answer and kept after Jesus, saying “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”. And then, Jesus calls her a dog. What’s wrong with this picture? This does not appear to be the savior I love, worship, the one with a heart full of compassion. Can you imagine that?
And still, the woman did not give up. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.”
“Have mercy on me” is a cry of those in pain often found in Scripture, especially the Psalms. So, although a pagan she had knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. And she had enough faith to know that Jesus could cure her daughter. And help her, he eventually did.
What a contrast between Jesus reaching his hand out to save Peter and calling this woman a dog. Last week we heard ‘O ye of little faith’.
Think about times in our lives when we didn’t believe there would be enough; the times we feared scarcity. I know I’ve had those times, especially as a young, divorced mother. There may not be enough, so we hold tight to what we have. We fear scarcity, don’t we. I see Jesus in this moment not seeing that God is expansive-there’s enough of God to go around-to include everyone.
This woman was looking for something better, healing for her child, as do most mothers. Those of us here who are mothers, fathers, guardians, and grandparents understand the will to do anything to save our child from pain.
Right now, in our country and in our world, we often hear people being called names or being put down due to their race, nationality, sexuality, economic status, or religious beliefs. What is our reaction? Do we speak up? It can be hard to witness when we hear people talking negatively about others. The reality is we often do nothing about what we’ve heard. We may inwardly cringe, yet we don’t want to make waves-or make an enemy. So, we keep quiet. We let it be someone else’s problem. If it doesn’t directly impact me, why should I get involved? Is this woman’s daughter not important? Was Jesus too busy, too exhausted to be bothered? Is our neighbor not important? Are we afraid there isn’t enough healing to go around?
Jesus and the disciples were Jewish and familiar with Hebrew scripture. They would have been familiar with Isaiah and the 56th chapter.
“Maintain justice, and do what is right, And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, … these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; … Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered”.
Isaiah challenges us to maintain justice and do what is right. If we don’t strive for justice who will? If we don’t respect the dignity of every human being, who will? We must feel the struggles of the underserved, the struggles that create conflict and be a voice for justice. There is enough for all.
Why did they not know that God did not just belong only to the Jewish people? Had they simply not understood that ‘foreigners’ were also loved by God? Of course, we know that the disciples weren’t always the brightest when it came to understanding Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus had some growing to do as well. This Canaanite woman understood Jesus’ mission better than he did. And she came out on top in her tussle with Jesus. She did much better than the Pharisees ever did. This woman became the teacher and Jesus and the disciples the students. When Jesus recognized her faith, he came to understand that his mission was not just Israel but to the world. Just as this woman showed her faith to Jesus are we not to do the same? Isn’t that what God asks? Jesus opens his mind and the minds of the disciples because of this outsider, and sees the new vision for the kingdom of God we heard from the prophet Isaiah. God will gather others together, saying, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”.
We learn that God’s mercy and justice is abundant and there’s enough for everyone. There is no scarcity with God. Just as many of the prophets this woman fought God and won. She’s the first outsider to break down the barriers. She broke into the circle.
Christians must understand the lesson learned by Jesus and the disciples. God is non-exclusionary. God calls each person into God’s circle which is ever expanding. We try to make circles to keep others out and ourselves safe. Some believe that by excluding others, keeping or making walls things will be better and safer.
We know that to include others is how we are to live into God’s dream for us. If we don’t allow others in, we may find ourselves on the outside of God’s circle. Our God transcends all boundaries that we erect.
God calls us to be with others in their pain, especially those who believe themselves to be outsiders, unclean, and not worthy of love. It may make us uncomfortable to be with those people. Please imagine, if you will, how these people feel. Look with compassion as we are called to do.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans grapples with the notion that God’s mercy extends to both Jews and Gentiles, and how humans don’t understand God’s plan. God has a wisdom that is beyond our understanding. God hadn’t given up on the Jewish people. God is all-encompassing and includes all of us. It’s dangerous for any nation or people to believe that God has favorites and that only they are right. We hear so much rhetoric these days about absolutes, people proclaiming to be righteous and insisting people do things one way. ‘My way or the highway’ seems to be taken seriously. We are all, every one of us, created in God’s image. If that’s true, and we believe it is, who are we to exclude?
I ask you to ponder a few things. Who do you see as the Canaanites, the ‘others’, the dog, among us? Who are our neighbors? Are there people around us that you believe should be excluded? Who do you believe Jesus should ignore? Why?
It is difficult to meet people unlike us, especially for us introverts. Leaving the comfort of our pew can be daunting. If we look at who we would leave behind, in the silence of our heart, and understand why, perhaps we can begin to welcome the Canaanites putting the negative rhetoric behind. Can we leave fear behind?
When you come to the altar today remember we are in a house of prayer for all people. After all, this is the place of “the gifts of God, for the people of God”. Let us welcome others at this table remembering there is no scarcity in God.