August 17, 2014 by Ken Dale
Last Sunday I received some interesting and positive feedback following worship on the image of a grinning Jesus saying to Peter in a positive tone of voice, ?you of little faith ? why did you doubt.? It was Jesus? affirmation that even with little faith, and though it was for a short period of time, Peter did walk on water. Yes, it may be stretching it a bit but we do affirm that God is still speaking. So today ? well, today we get a totally more challenging image of Jesus. The first 10 verses of the reading this morning Jesus speaks in reference to the long lists of instructions about what and what not to do about eating that was part of his religious teaching and upbringing. These dietary laws placed a high premium on an individual?s purity. But Jesus is more concerned about what comes out our mouths than what goes into them. For Jesus purity and faithfulness are more about speaking and living the love of God than about just putting on a good show and doing the correct things, looking good but possibly just going through the motions. Jesus says what comes out of our mouths comes from our hearts and that?s where it counts ? so what comes out of our mouths must actually reveal what is in our hearts. I think enough said ? it?s good to just leave it there ? how can we not get the point.
The rest of the passage really presents another side of Jesus and I came across some fascinating reflections on it this past week. That?s where I?d like us to focus this morning ? now that I?ve also tossed out a short reflection on the first 10 verses. Remember Matthew is telling the story and Matthew is making a huge point saying that this is a Canaanite woman. There are so many lines being crossed. That she is a woman, that she is a Canaanite woman, that she even speaks ? those are all lines already drawn between her and Jesus. She also uses the phrase ?Son of David? which was only for the Messiah. His disciples haven?t yet even recognized that of him. She is not even a Jew and yet she uses this phrase which would acknowledge him as the Messiah. Keeping within the boundaries of their faith, Jesus and the disciples do not respond. The line is already drawn and they will not cross it. ?????????? The disciples urge Jesus to send her away and he answers that he was ?sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.? But then she kneels before him ?Lord help me.? Remember her pleas are for her daughter ? this is a Mom pleading for a sick child. And Jesus responds, ?It is not fair to take the children?s food and throw it to the dogs.? So in fact, Jesus calls her a dog ? more precisely a little dog ? it is a diminutive form of the word. This most likely is a shocking side of the Jesus we all know and love. How could he respond that way?! But she fires right back at him ? ?even dogs/puppies eat crumbs.? The Canaanite woman listens to Jesus dismiss her but she then turns it right back on him. It wasn?t too long ago we considered Jacob at the Jabbok and remember how he held on for a blessing? This woman ? this Mom ? is doing the same thing ? holding on for a blessing for her daughter. She refuses to stay on her side of the line. And in that moment there is a huge change. Clearly in this moment we see the human Jesus ? but still it is Jesus. I think the change is that Jesus sees her as a person ? not the labeled ?Canaanite woman? that is on the ?don?t list.?
The new perspective I read of was this wonderful possibility: That through this encounter with the Canaanite woman ? God was speaking to Jesus. And Jesus was learning that what was going on in and through him ? namely the ushering in of God?s realm / kingdom ? the presence of a radically new divine love ? was bigger than even he thought it was. Jesus understood it was for God?s people, the house of Israel. And it?s interesting that these ?lost sheep? of God?s people apparently actually don?t want to be found. But in this moment Jesus sees that it is bigger than he imagined, that it was more encompassing than even he had ever dreamed. God?s people were not limited to the house of Israel ? it included Gentiles. Gentiles were all those people who were not Jews. What do you think? How does this sit with you? This passage actually could be inviting us to imagine God?s purpose continues to unfold throughout Jesus? life and ministry. This tenacious and faithful woman, yes ? Canaanite woman ? pushed Jesus to reconsider and so to learn and so to grow. God speaks through her to Jesus.
Think of it: God saying to Jesus through this encounter ? ?don?t just focus on how lost my sheep seem to be ? keep crossing those lines, keep breaking those boundaries, keep sharing that healing love to whomever calls for it ? and trust me, I am God and my love knows no boundaries. Share that healing love no matter what!?
The question that then follows is, are we willing to learn that same thing as followers of Jesus Christ??? And what are the lines, the boundaries, that God would have us cross to share that love? What lines do we draw to protect ourselves ? lines between us and others that perhaps God would have us erase. And what faces in our lives can we think of through whom God may be speaking to us ? challenging us or maybe even reaching out to us with much needed healing in our own lives? Are there lines we have drawn in our own lives that we need to step over because it could be God who is waiting for us on the other side?
I get so quickly overwhelmed thinking about the world the way it is today ? the conflict of wars, ISIS, the exchange of missiles between Gaza and Israel, the terrible situation in Iraq, the refugees in so many places around the world including our own country, yes it surely puts me on my knees for prayer and we all wonder why and how it could be so. So much concern to bring to God and perhaps so big that we feel helpless and hopeless in what to do. But in our own individual lives we have the opportunity to bring something different into the world ? and that is that divine love that we can share with each other and with the stranger. We need to see others as God sees them ? as persons ? no matter who or what they are. And yes ? it does make a difference. Remember that wonderful old story about the person walking on the beach covered with starfish that have washed up and been left behind by the outgoing tide??? The person picks them up one at a time and throws them back into the ocean. Another person comes up and says, ?Why bother doing that ? there are so many of them ? you can?t save them all! What difference does it make?? And the person picks one more up, tosses it into the water, and says, ?It made a difference to that one.?