17 August 2008

proper 15, year a

Matthew 15:21-28

She was hysterical by choice. She knew that the only way to get this man’s attention was to pitch a controlled, calculated fit. She called him “Son of David” to appeal to his people and she raised her voice just enough to call attention to herself. Of course, because she was near the bottom of the cultural totem pole, she had no mess speaking to a man like Jesus in public, in the first place. But he was her last hope. And when a mother has hope, nothing can stop her.

“Keep going, keep going, keep going,” he told the disciples. “We have received our Operating Instructions. We are here for the people of Israel. We are not here to help Gentiles. Ignore her. Don’t make eye contact, look straight ahead, keep moving.”

Stopping to help this woman would do nothing for the mission as he understood it—He was to save his people. The Israelites. This woman and her sick child were Gentiles, not Jews. They were Canaanites, not Israelites. He could help her, but then he’d be getting off track. His time was limited.

The woman ran faster. At the front of the crowd, she caught up with Jesus and landed on her knees right in front of him. “Lord. Help. Me.”

“No. Helping you would be like helping a dog. We don’t have time,” he said.

To us, this hardly seems like Jesus’ finest hour. Even if, as some scholarship suggests, Jesus is testing the woman and the disciples…even IF Jesus knew exactly what he was doing here… he still just IGNORED a woman with a sick child because of her ethnicity and then he likened her to a dog.[i]

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t do something divine here. We have to get through the tough parts first. Wait for it.

In the meantime, Mom is pushing back. Not out of disrespect—she just knows what she wants. The more face time she can get with this man, the more likely he will be able to see her as one worthy of God’s grace too. She argues with Jesus. She doesn’t just take what he has to say and accept it, she challenges him. She pushes him. She takes him by the shoulders and turns him around. She gets in there and wiggles and pushes and widens the boundaries: “Yes, but Jesus, even dogs get to eat.”

Like lightning, Truth and Compassion rippled through Jesus.

He Changed His Mind.

* * * * *

My friend Matthew was not a dog person. But when he and his wife came to town, they stayed at my house. And my Sally, my big brown Labrador, cozied right up to him. Sat on his feet, licked his ears, fell asleep with her head in his lap. The real moment of transformation came when we were in the backyard and Sal dropped the ball at his feet. When he threw it, she brought it back. They played fetch. An hour later, he was converted. He changed his mind.

Have you ever had a moment like that? You’d sworn off eggplant, but then you had it fried and smothered in cheese. Delicious. You weren’t a baby person… until you had one. You didn’t think you could wear orange until someone gave you an orange scarf.

Some sort of relationship with another human being is often at the heart of most transformation. . . We’ve all heard stories of acceptance—African American slaves who befriended their masters. Scared, concerned, freaked out parents who learn to love their gay children anyway. For crying out loud, there are people from my own life who, before I felt the call to ordained ministry, didn’t believe that a woman could possibly have anything to say from a pulpit. (Ha!)

Indeed, it is the power of relationship that blows open the doors to transformation.

The skies part,
the seas deepen,
the mountains grow.
and we see that our God is one
who colors outside the lines.

Thank God for the Canaanite woman, we’ll call her Grace. God sent her to his Son to show him that his mission was way bigger than even he could possibly imagine. Remember—Jesus was human, too. He had to figure all of this out somehow. Why not through the Canaanite woman?

The miracle of today’s Gospel lesson happens in two parts—the obvious part is when Jesus heals her daughter. But part one of the miracle happens just minutes before, when he listened to her. And only then did he have the strength and the courage to cast aside what he thought was right and opened himself up to the possibilities of God’s grace.

THAT is a man I will follow. Someone who learns and grows and is open to God’s movement in the world. Someone who has the courage to change his mind for the sake of Gospel Stuff: truth, justice, mercy, Love.

The human condition certainly has the potential to close our minds. But.
Thank God we were granted the ability to change.
Thank God that nothing other than God’s Love for us is set in stone.
Thank God that that Love is big enough to transform us.

And Jesus, in this story in particular, is beautiful example of that kind of transformation. Compassion and mercy trump his understanding of what he thinks is right. Truth errs on the side of grace, not on the side of rigidity. Truth always lands on Love’s side. And Love like this always wins.


[i] As always I remain forever indebted to Barbara Crafton & her Daily Emos from www.geraniumfarm.org. Also, while I’m footnoting, I’ll go ahead and give props to Sarah Dylan Breuer at http://www.sarahlaughed.net/. Her lectionary blog on this text confirmed my train of thought. +