Sunday, August 20, 2017

Year A Proper 15 2017 Feed from the Heart

“Feed from the Heart”
Year A, Proper 15, 20 August 2017
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Matthew 15: 10-28
Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just 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.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
There are certain passages you do not want to come up in the lectionary. But the lectionary, for good or bad, makes you confront them anyway. But like I have said with other passages from this pulpit, we are hearing this passage with 20 centuries of Christianity between us and them. We hear them with post-salvation ears, instead of the cultural, religious, and class-based ears of those who were with Jesus that day. I read this passage and at first glance, it appears Jesus is being what could be called racist. Or misogynist. Or religiously superior.

But Jesus’ initial response was what his disciples would have expected, and to be honest, the woman in the story would have expected this as well. His response, if he bothered to give one, is exactly what he said at first.

Before we get too far, let us recognize the setting. Jesus was out of his normal area, wandering over to the Mediterranean town of Tyre, the Phoenician cities Tyre and Sidon being another culture, an unclean culture of the Greek and Roman Mediterranean world instead of the Jewish villages where he normally travelled and taught. While there, a woman recognized him and pestered and needled, begged and cajoled, pleaded and prayed until she got what she wanted.

Now who amongst us would do anything for our kids? Raise your hands. I am amongst you as well. I would do anything for my kids, and if one of them were sick NOTHING would keep me from doing WHATEVER it took to save them. I would beg, borrow, and probably steal if that is what it took. And this woman broke the cultural and religious barriers that would normally keep her from having any interaction with Jesus. But those invisible, but very real, boundaries were not going to stop her.

I do not care the culture or the situation, there are certain things that hold true. One of those truths is this, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It was true then as it is true now.

And there is only one thing that was going to make this Momma happy. She cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  Now she was a Canaanite woman here in Matthew, in Mark Syrophoenician. Both are peoples who lived in this area and were not Jewish. Canaanite being a more general term, and Syrophoenician being more particular, living in long established cities along the coast. Called Philistines among many names. In fact, the people of Gaza that we often call Palestinians are the same ethnicity of the woman in our story today, the sea trading people who invented our alphabet. And being a woman, culturally she COULD NOT TALK WITH JESUS. As a Canaanite, ethnically she COULD NOT TALK WITH JESUS. As a non-Jew, a Gentile, religiously she COULD NOT TALK WITH JESUS. But love will make us do a lot of things that we would not normally do, and what greater love is there than between a mother and her child? She comes to Jesus and pleads.

The disciples had had enough of this troublesome woman, and wanted Jesus to settle it once and for all. They were tired of her single-note song. “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” In ministry we run into a lot of people who would be easier to say to, “Go away.” After 30 years of being in the ministry, I have to admit that I still have to remind myself that there are EGR people, and there always will be. EGR? Yes, EGR. Extra Grace Required. Sometimes that EGR person is me. And here this woman is the EGR one, but Jesus does not start there.

Jesus starts with what everyone expected, the cultures, the disciples, and even the woman. Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

And remember, he was not in Israel, but over in Tyre on the Mediterranean. But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Now there is not the sense of female dogs implied here, it is more like pets. He is recognizing her humanity, but definitely second-class, less-than, not-equal about what he says here. EVERYONE who was with him would have expected this. As a Jewish male, he would have no need to recognize her existence. In fact, any interaction with the woman would have made Jesus ritually unclean. This is just like the woman at the well in John.

The expectation of EVERYONE would be for the story to stop here. But we all know better than that. Matthew is the most Jewish-oriented of the Gospels. But every so often we see the promise from Isaiah that the Israelites (Isaiah 9:2) would give the world a gift, and Matthew quotes this in chapter 4.

The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
   on them light has shined.

And here Jesus steps outside of his primary mission and does the EGR thing, and responds to the need at hand. One of the hardest things for me to figure out when I first went into fulltime ministry was that my agenda was often a joke. I might have my agenda for the day, but sometimes, often, ministry gets in the way of my plan. That happened to Jesus that day.

[The woman] said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

And what does this have to do with us? I could stop here, and say that the racist Jesus or the misogynist Jesus that we might see at first reading is not entirely accurate. But in light of what happened last weekend a bit more than an hour away, I feel that we have to go deeper. Deeper into the call of Christ, and deeper into the culture that we swim in every day.

Jesus and his ministry did not change. He does, however, see that her needs and his mission do intersect and he heals her daughter and she gets what she came for. But God’s dream for this world, what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, calls upon us to stop drawing lines where God does not want them, and for us to stop putting periods where God places commas.

My wife and I watched the footage of the riots in Charlottesville and the heartbreaking reality of the hate and violence could not be hidden. If God were not here, and if Jesus had not come, then the lines of division and separation *might* make sense. But I believe there is a God, and in Jesus I see a call for a new way of life. And the change in this new way of life is not about making us feel good. It is about making the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the dead to rise again. We are talking about Capital-T Transformation, not change. We change our clothes, but a Caterpillar transforms into a Butterfly. We are called to nothing less, and any Gospel that does not call us to that is the spiritual equivalent of a cup of warm milk or a snooze in a hammock.

Jesus was steeped in a culture, just like we all are, and broke free from it here. I am sure his disciples were aghast. We know they were. How? If not, WHY ELSE WOULD THEY HAVE INCLUDED IT? This was a radical and transformative story for them. And we are called to live lives much the same.

I jumped right to the narrative part of today’s Gospel, but we must see it in context of the teaching that Jesus gave right before his trip to Tyre on the coast. He spoke of the things that go in, the Jewish ritual and kosher dietary laws are not the things that make us clean or unclean.

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.”
What the disciples and Jewish culture were so quick to condemn, a woman, a GENTILE woman at that, who was in the way and noisy, Jesus addressed and responded to her. She was not something to brush aside, but a someone, a beloved child of God. We all are. But it too often takes Kingdom eyes to see that. This woman was not unclean, and neither was Jesus for the encounter. What came out of her heart was a plea for love of her daughter. What came out of his heart, was an expansion of what the Kingdom of God could be, both for them then and for us now.

When people see us, they need to see a life changed. It would be easy to hang out and associate with those who are like us, what EVERYONE expects, but if Jesus can go to Tyre and Sidon, we can go to the other side of the tracks or the wrong part of town. And God only knows who God will place in our path. It might be the EGR person that calls me to be a better Christian than I planned or wanted to be when I got up. We are called to care for those whom God brings us into our lives, like the Good Samaritan, like Jesus here with the desperate mother.

God may call us to break bread with the alt-right, or the alt-left. God may call us to be in relationship with the least of these, whether that is monetarily or culturally least-of-these. The last time I had to preach on this passage three years ago happened to be the weekend after the riots in Ferguson. That three years later, we are probably in a worse state than then breaks my heart. But it also shows me one thing, the world needs the light of Christ’s Gospel all the more. When we see torches in our streets, we need to bring Christ’s light in response. When we hear racial slurs, we need to cry out with our actions that ALL are the beloved Children of God. When we are struck for being loving and kind, we turn the other cheek. And as they yell and scream and strike and spit, and we take it like Jesus, they will eventually see that that God’s love is greater than the fear that drives them to such hate. It will not be easy, it will be long and hard in this struggle against Evil, for let us name it for what it is. But I have read God’s word, and no matter how you interpret the final chapters (literal, metaphorical, or figurative) one thing is resolutely clear. OUR SIDE WINS. And God’s KIngdom has been growing and expanding for 2,000 years, like yeast spreading through a dough. That is the very reason this story strikes us as so odd and offensive after the Kingdom’s influence on this world, and our culture.

And God wants as many on the Kingdom side as there can be. He healed the girl immediately so that it was abundantly clear, God’s Grace is for all, NOW. There are no second class citizens, or less-thans in the Kingdom of God.

When we come to Christ’s table, we can leave the labels behind. Will we? When we come to Christ’s table, we are fed from the very heart of God, and we are called to do the same. When we break the expectations of this world and feed from the heart, the world is transformed as are we. Thanks be to God! Amen.

1 comment:

Hi! Thanks for wanting to comment. Please add it here, and after a moderator reviews it, it will be posted if appropriate. Look forward to hearing your opinion.
Blessings, Rock