Scripture: Matthew 15: 21-28; Romans 11:1-2A, 29-32
The gospel story that we just heard is one that I have puzzled over on many occasions. We see all kinds of surprises in this story. Some, which surprise us, would not even have raised an eyebrow for the disciples. Nor to the Jewish Christians to whom Matthew addressed his gospel. Jesus was approached by a woman; women had no status and no voice at that time, yet she insists on being heard. What’s more she was a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were the poster children for what Israel was to avoid: idolatry, lewd worship practices, and the like. Why should God’s favor be extended to her? And what we consider an insult, calling her a dog, was a common way of referring to gentiles.
Suprises for the discioles
What would have surprised the disciples is that Jesus didn’t just send her away, He was under no obligation to even acknowledge a foreign woman but he listened and, at the end, acted on her request. Jesus announces that God’s mercy does extend to her and even commends her for her great faith. In Matthew’s gospel several people are commended for faith (and many rebuked for having no faith), but only this woman is said to have great faith.
Was Jesus all-knowing?
Did Jesus know everything during his time on Earth? Did Jesus change his mind? And did this encounter teach him something about the breadth of his mission? Many commentators, focussing on the divinity of Jesus, claim he knew everything. After all, he is God. But during his time on earth, he was also human. To me, the idea of Jesus not being all-knowing while on earth makes sense. How, otherwise, could he experience the human condition first hand? And what a terrible weight it would be for a human to know, in advance, everything that is going to happen.
A very human Jesus
That is why this has become one of my favorite gospel stories. So many of the stories about Jesus focus on his extraordinary powers, healing miracles, feeding a multitude with five loaves and two fish, walking on water, and so on. This story shows a very human side to Jesus. The idea that Jesus was not all knowing while on earth, and had to develop his ideas and work out his mission as he went along, speaks to his humanity and how he provides an example that we, mere mortals, can follow. Let’s look at this story more closely …
Make her go or listen to her
Jesus and his disciples had just walked about 40 miles from Galilee to the area of Tyre and Sidon. No doubt, he was tired both from the journey and from a busy time in Galilee. I’m sure the last thing he wanted was to be bothered by foreign woman.
The disciples obviously wanted her to be sent away, but instead, Jesus sat in silence, What would have been the significance of Jesus not answering her right away? Was he, as many have implied, ignoring her or trying to find a way to make her go away? Or was he thinking about her request? Jesus replied to this suggestion with the words I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. I think he was pondering this as he said it, and still pondering as he spoke to the woman: it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
I believe that, as Jesus looked at this woman and recognized her humanity, her need, her love for her daughter, his own sense of God’s Kingdom was challenged stretched and enhanced. He may have entered the encounter believing that he was sent only to the Israelites but he ended it with a wider view of his mission. In other words, this very human Jesus learned something new about himself and his work. This passage invites us to imagine that God’s purpose unfolded throughout Jesus’ life and ministry and continues to do so in our own lives and experiences.
Can we learn?
Who, like this tenacious and faithful woman, a complete stranger, will God use to push us to reconsider to learn and to grow? That is the question question for us today. Can we learn? If Jesus could be changed, can we? Every generation sees some people as “other” and puts them under the table. We could make a long list of people we see as different: different race, different customs, different religion, different sexual orientation. How inclusive are we?
Mercy freely given
In today’s reading from Saint Paul, one of the problems he was dealing with was the fact but a Jewish Messiah was rejected by his own people while the gentiles were responding to him in faith. As a result, the gentile Christians were tempted to look down on people of the Jewish faith; and many still do. Paul insisted that it was all part of God’s plan to extend mercy to all people. God gives us mercy not so that we can boast about it or to show that we are God’s special favourites, We receive God’s mercy as a gift so that we will share that mercy with others, with all others. Yes, ALL others! Because they, like us, are God’s beloved children.
How inclusive is the Church?
How inclusive are we as a Church? We Canadian Anglicans often pride ourselves that there is room for everyone here. We don’t, at least I hope we try not to, think of some people as “in’ and others as “out”, or “saved” and “unsaved”. But however inclusive is the organization we call the Church, isn’t the more important question: How inclusive are we?
How inclusive are we?
How at ease are we in today’s multicultural climate? In recent years, our communities have seen an influx of people from all over the world. Milton, withits explosive growth, possibly more so than many other places. How easy do we find it to deal with people of other cultures? Have we tried to include other people in our lives? When was the last time we sat at table with, or picked up the phone and called, a person of a different faith? Or of a different ethnicity or colour? How do we react when we hear about the way our indigenous brothers and sisters have been and are treated? To ask just a few questions about our attitude to others.
How inclusive are we? I ask you (and me) to ponder that question this week. We fear, and exclude what we don’t know and understand. Let’s make an effort to het to know people who are different to us, and listen and learn from them. As Jesus did, listening to the Canaanite woman. Amen