Once again friends, parts of this are notes, parts manuscript, but use your imagination to catch the drift. Peace!
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
Sermon for August 17, 2008, First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Chicago, Thomas R Gaulke
Grace to you and peace…
Let us pray…
Intro: Story of Unnamed man outside the SS bldg.
The other day, I had to go up to the Social Security office.
Had to pay for more parking
(1.5 hrs not enough)
So went down the escalator,
Down a few blocks to pay.
On the way, I saw a man laying on the sidewalk.
Unlike the Good Samaritan, I walked by to pay my meter.
Payed with credit card.
As I was paying he came up behind and was screaming obscenities at me.
Telling me I was going to pay
(Which was ironic because I was paying my meter).
Didn’t know if I was safe, but my credit card was inside the machine…
Eventually he went away.
I don’t know his name.
Woman today Similar?
In the same way, I think the Canaanite woman in today’s story must have seemed to Jesus and his disciples.
To start off, we need to know something about the Canaanites.
More so than any other religious group of the time (more than Roman religion, more than Samaritan folks, more than any other “unclean faith”, the Canaanites were despised.
To folks in the Jewish tradition, they were an abomination.
In the Old Testament, the Canaanite religion is referred to as “evil.”
They were notorious for sacrificing children, religious prostitution, loose morality, and so on.
Within the frame work of Judaism—especially among the Pharisees, who highly emphasized ritual Purity, Canaanites were detestable, immoral, and gross.
Were all Canaanites like this? No, (as we will learn today), but just the mention of the name would cause a Holy person’s stomach to churn, to feel nauseated by the filth and the immorality that the Canaanite came to represent.
It was a Canaanite woman who confronted Jesus.
Pause. (In Character)
MERCY…MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY
SON OF DAVID
MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY
MY DAUGHTER HAS DEMONS, MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY…
They could tell she was Canaanite because of her accent
And because of her facial features
And because of the color of her skin
She was a little dirty
A little disheveled
A little worn down by life
A little worn down by the streets
And screaming MEEERCY
And Jesus did what many of us would do
He did what I did to the unnamed man outside the SS building early this week.
He avoided eye contact.
Pretended he was on his cell phone.
He hoped the woman would assume he was hard of hearing.
Or he pretended that he had some important meeting to get to, and so he didn’t even notice…
He kept walking, hurriedly.
With his disciples,
Hoping to make this awkward situation as short as possible.
After all, it is not good for the reputation to have a dirty Canaanite hanging around and calling your Rabbi “Lord…”
Looord…. MERCYYYY, LORD HAVE MERCY!!!
Dear God! Say the disciples—
Or really: Dear Jesus,
Send her away already!
This woman will not shut up
She keeps yelping after us (Greek = KRAZO)…
She calls you Lord!
Send her away!”
Even Jesus reflects: “My job description did only include mission to the lost sheep of Israel”
As they have stopped to discuss, the woman has had time to catch up to the group of Jewish disciples and their Rabbi, Jesus.
Now that she in closer,
She kneels down, she lays prostrate, she assumes the position for worship (think Muslim prayer)
And she says:
“Lord, Help Me.”
Only we don’t get a typical Jesus response…
We don’t get Jesus immediately saying to her “Arise, you and your daughter are healed, go on your way.”
Rather we get Jaded, Cynical, Jerk-Jesus:
“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs” he says.
What if we worded it this way?
Why should I help her? That dirty old Canaanite. If I help her, she’s just going to go hurt someone else.
Or this way:
Why should I give her anything? Everyone knows she’s just going to use it to by crack.
Why should I throw pearls before swine?
Why should I take good food that could be used to feed my kids and give it to this…DOG?
And without flinching
She exposes to the Disciples (and perhaps even to Jesus) their own hypocrisy.
Jesus, who had just a few verses earlier declared to the crowds (and had pissed off the Pharisees) by saying that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles it, but what comes out of the mouth”
—that is: true faith is a matter of the heart—not of being ritually or religiously “pure…”
The same disciples and Jesus who taught radical and inclusion and acceptance of those who popular tradition had declared “unclean,” were being confronted by someone really unclean. The sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes…they were still all Hebrew people. They were part of “the chosen ones.” They still had some inkling of “the holy.”
But a Canaanite woman?
Why should we give the good food meant for the kids to the puppy dogs?
Whether he was saying it to prove a point (because he knew the woman would keep pressing and ultimately prove her faith)
Or because he meant it,
Jesus word’s reflected the sectarianism, the arrogance, and the racism of his day.
And his words stood in stark contradiction to everything he had just taught among the crowds about “true” faith.
He calls the woman a dog.
And the woman won’t have it.
In a moment of great courage and great faith,
The woman stands up to Jesus.
And she stands up to Jesus by laying down.
Bowed down, laying prostate on the floor,
She quotes to him from scripture.
She, a Canaanite woman, presents to Rabbi Jesus his own scripture (Isaiah 53)
[elaborate another time—bible study].
She takes the words from the familiar texts—
from a prophet that promised one day that all nations would worship the God of Israel
from the same prophet that prophesied the coming of Jesus as Messiah
She took the prophet’s words,
and rather than arguing, rebuking,
or reacting in hostility toward those who had offended her,
This dirty Canaanite woman used the words of scripture, combined with her actions, to say something quite profound.
Bowed down, she said, quoting scripture, perhaps with a smirk:
“Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
And in so doing, she opened the eyes of these 13 Jewish men to their own scriptures.
She changed their mind about her, and about their approach to Gentiles all-together.
And in so doing, she became perhaps the only person in scripture
To call the great opponent and critic of hypocrisy a hypocrite
She becomes perhaps the only person in scripture (that I know of) who was ever called to
Prophesy to a prophet.
And it worked.
The 12 disciples who, in chapter 10, were sent out only to the lost sheep of Israel, by the last chapter of the gospel (28) were sent out to all nations—to the ends of the earth,
and that is where they went
and that is where the Gospel is proclaimed, to this day.
(pause. Pause. Pause.)
It had been said:
Jesus did not come to make bad people good.
Rather, Jesus came to bring dead people to life.
May God grant that we always have our ears open:
To those outside our social circles,
To those outside our faith,
To those unnamed Canaanite women of our day,
As they may have something to say
About our church,
Our faithfulness, and our hypocrisies.
May we welcome them as prophets,
And be transformed deeply by their tormented cries.
So that we might be about the business
Of bringing life to those who are dead
And proclaiming God’s love
That transcends, gender, race, class, nationality, citizenship,
And any other arbitrary lines
That have been passed down to us by popular tradition.
And now may the peace that passes….Amen.