Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 15 August 16 2020
Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
It's been a hard year. It’s been a hard month. We’ve had too much death in our little community. In our larger neighborhoods people are behaving badly, accusing one another of this, that, and the other thing. We've been stretched to breaking with the demands on our patience and on our compassion. We have experienced so very closely the broken world in which we live. But there is also much goodness all around us, in so many places and in so many people.
And on top of that we have before us a hard lesson from Matthew and this continuing story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers, brothers who sold him into slavery because they didn't like that he was a dreamer. What are we to make of it all? What are we to make of the readings and what are we to make of the reality?
In the verses from Matthew we have before us today, Jesus really seems mad. He's been spending all of his time teaching the disciples and other followers, parable after parable, story after story, trying to impart everything he can about humanity's relationship with God, and God's relationship with God's people. Jesus experienced the tragic death of his relative, John. Jesus has fed thousands of people, and all he wants is to get away by himself for a little R and R. He's got to walk on the water out to the boat to save those hapless disciples, and after all that, the Pharisees come all the way from Jerusalem to entrap him. I imagine that the actual telling of this story has quite of bit of censoring and editing, I imagine Jesus' language may have been much more colorful than we hear today.
Jesus says that what comes out of our mouths and from our hearts can be disastrous when we don't speak with love and truth. Jesus says, our words matter. Our words have the power to create a compassionate reality, and our words can challenge the darkness, our words can even be the light in the darkness. Our words and our actions even have the power to dispel the darkness. One of my favorite books by my favorite author is A Wrinkle in Time, it is a story that is all about using our gifts, following in the footsteps of the saints who came before us, about daring to be different, it's about foolishness, faith and free will, and the greatest call and commandment, loving one another. That story shows us, like scripture tells us today, what we say to one another matters, our words matter.
The words that dispel the darkness are words that come from a heart that is filled with mercy and compassion, a heart filled with love for each and every gift of God's creation. Even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of tragedy, we are called to speak words of mercy and compassion, words of God's love for all of God's creation. We are called to speak words of mercy and compassion into every darkness. We must conspire with God to speak words of love, words of mercy and compassion, into the darkness to dispel the darkness. That is what Jesus is trying to show us in this gospel today, and that is the truth of what God in Jesus has done and continues to do. Darkness does not win. Love wins. Our words can create a compassionate reality. And we are desperate for a compassionate reality.
The second half of the story from Matthew paints a picture of Jesus that may be even harder for us to understand. He is angry, and mean, and in this particular story, Jesus claims an exclusive mission. He says he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What is amazing in this story is that the Canaanite woman challenges Jesus, and her challenge creates a new compassionate reality. She challenges Jesus to include not just the lost sheep of Israel, but everyone in the known world.
In this story, the Canaanite woman is absolutely and completely the other, the foreigner, the alien, she doesn't look like us or talk like us. But she's also a mother. Jesus is speaking to a mother whose daughter's life is at risk. Many of you know that when your child's life is at stake, you will do most anything, go to any lengths, you'll stay by their bedside, you'll take them to the hospital in the middle of the night, you'll pray and ask everyone you know to pray, you'll even bargain with God. This is that mother. She's not an insider, she's not an Israelite, she is a foreigner, she looks differently and she speaks differently than Jesus. And even Jesus, this Jesus who I have always believed includes everyone, initially says no. Maybe he's just too tired, maybe he's had a hard day, maybe he's fed so many people he's just spent. I've felt that way.
It is hard to hear, but in this passage is a comment on cultural and racial differences. The talk about throwing food to the dogs, and that even dogs eat the crumbs from under their master’s table is about that difference, and initially, nobody responds to this Canaanite woman. She is not Jewish. Too often we cannot or refuse to empathize with people whose experience is different from our own. If the oppression, injustice, or pain is not happening in our house and neighborhood or does not impact our race, gender, class, or sexuality, then we dismiss it as unwelcomed, unjustified noise. Jesus’ response to the apostles’ urging to send the Canaanite woman away seems to affirm their desire to dismiss her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The fact that her people’s blood runs through his veins and that his people’s blood runs through her veins does not move Jesus! If our common humanity, our relatedness, does not move us, what will?
The Canaanite woman persists. Like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Oprah Winfrey, Senator Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Kamala Harris, the Canaanite woman persisted. She didn’t go away; she won’t be dismissed. She draws closer and kneels. Yet Jesus does not perform an exorcism; Jesus simply says, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” Jesus does not say let it be done as you believed but as you will. The woman’s will to power manifested by her persistence identified as faith led to her daughter’s healing.
When you don't think you can do one more thing, help one more person, listen to one more story, persist, and something happens. Something shows forth the light, the love, the healing, the hope. Something breaks through. And the break through expands the love, the result is not just her baby being healed, but it is healing for everyone, for all of us. The light shows forth, mercy and compassion are possible.
We are desperate for this compassionate reality. Our words matter. Love wins. What we do and what we say in the midst of violence is capable of healing. This is that day. Remember, what Jesus does on the cross is to take evil out of the world with him. He does not look for revenge, and surely he is the one who would have the right to. Instead Jesus loves. Instead Jesus forgives. Instead Jesus heals.
It is our baptismal call to bear Jesus' love, forgiveness and healing into the world, it is our baptismal call to speak words of compassion into the world. It is our baptismal call to stand up for those who would be torn down. This is our mission: To build bridges of love and compassion, to build bridges of healing and hope.
Martin Niemoller, a German theologian and Lutheran Pastor, who was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1938 to 1945, said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We may not be any of these things, but we are followers of Jesus and we must stand for Love. Amen.