11 Pentecost • August 16, 2020
Genesis 45:1-15 • Psalm 133 • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 • Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s Gospel Lesson has two distinct sections—a teaching and a story. Both have profound points to make about the nature of reality.
The first teaching distinguishes what generates good and evil in our poor world, beset with so many problems, so many confusions. Jesus says, “It not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
This is said against a background of the Jewish notion at the time of purity. Being pure and blameless was, for them in that time, a matter of observing dietary and sexual taboos. Some were contained in the Bible, but many were not. What foods a person could and how they were prepared and with whom you ate them counted. Dairy could not be mixed with meat, or even prepared in the same kitchen; eating with gentiles, those who were not Jews, made one unclean and impure. To this day, some parts of Judaism observe these purity laws.
But the reality is simply that evil and the purity of our souls does not come from such ritual acts. Evil comes from what is generated in our hearts, from out of our mouths. Think about it, think about where war comes from—someone in authority declares war and death and destruction follow. Where does theft of property come from—someone says in their heart and mind, “I have a right to their car and I’m going to take it.”
Think about how you have damaged other people. It all started with a feeling of anger, perhaps, or revenge, or coveting something that belonged properly to another. Then, out of this feeling in our hearts or perhaps our gut, we speak the word, we put the feelings into language in our minds, and then out from our mouths and into the world, actions that damage others.
Notice that Jesus is not forbidding us to speak evil; he is just wanting us to get clear about where evil comes from. Jesus is never the moralist, always the clarifier of what’s so, of the truth of it.
Likewise, the peaceable kingdom of God also comes from our hearts, and through our speech, and into the world.
In the second passage, the story is heartrending, of a gentile woman whose daughter is crazy—“tormented by a demon,” in their words. Jesus at this point in his ministry is on the run from the authorities, avoiding contact as his fame grows and he becomes more and more of a danger to the establishment. He moves into a gentile territory outside of Jewish lands, to Tyre and Sidon, the Phoenician domains. She pleas for help, but he ignores her. His disciples say to send her away because she’s making a disturbance and Jesus agrees that she has no place there with them.
But the woman won’t take no for an answer—“Lord, help me,” she says. No, he says, she’s not my problem—she’s a gentile and my business is with the Jews. She insists. Then he becomes directly insulting in an attempt to get her away: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Most people would be so insulted they’d leave in a huff, but she won’t leave. She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” At this, Jesus’ resistance crumbles and he is overwhelmed by the woman’s faith—by her commitment to the possibility of her daughter’s healing. “Woman, great is your faith!” he says, and her daughter is healed.
A couple of things: First, it is at this point that Jesus widens his view of his ministry. In the beginning, he saw his ministry as one aimed at God’s Chosen People, his fellow Jews. But after this event, the distinction between Jews and gentiles seems to be broken down in his mind. He becomes the savior of the whole world.
Secondly, the woman’s faith is what generates the miracle. Again, it is a matter of faith, of a commitment to a possibility, a commitment that will withstand rejection and insults and public humiliation. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
If you would like to have miracles in your life, to have the impossible thing that you badly want for yourself or for others, you can have it. But it will cost you. We would do well to take the example of the Canaanite woman to heart.