The lectionary reading this week is really divided in half. It’s one of those weeks where you’ve got a good half and a bad half. It’s the kind of reading/week where most preachers will naturally gravitate toward the good reading. That’s completely understandable. The good reading sets up a old fashioned knock down fight between the bad guy Pharisees and the good guy Jesus over how you say you live but what you actions reveal about what you believe. It’s a classic Jesus vs. Pharisee encounter. In fact, it’s one of the best. There’s so much to be learned and gleaned from these short verses.
Then there’s the second half of the reading; seven verses to be exact. It’s not pretty. In fact, if you’ve come from the victory party in the first ten verses and read these seven, you might walk away going, what just happened? Was that Jesus? It couldn’t be Jesus, could it? Let me ask you this, has Jesus ever made you wince? It may be when he says things that make you uncomfortable. I hope so. If he’s not done that before, you’re not listening close enough. If he’s not said something that’s felt like a verbal punch in the gut, then you’re not paying attention. That’s the way he operates and that’s one of the reasons I love him. He cuts against the grain of expectations and norms. If it doesn’t rub you the wrong way, just a little bit, when he says, “to love your enemy” or to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” then you’re not thinking about the full ramifications of such a statement. What would it mean if those words were lived out, in reality, without the thousands of caveats we impose upon them? See, feel that wince in the pit of your stomach, that’s listening to Jesus does. He makes you wince.
This morning, I want to talk about another time Jesus makes me wince. And it’s not pretty. Jesus is well out of his area. He’s out of his comfort zone, his region, his place of familiarity, place where he came from, anywhere he could point to and say “my grandmama’s people had a farm over here”. He’s in the region of Sidon and Tyre. That’s Canaanite country. Why he’s that far away from his “base” isn’t clear. Is it a break? A vacation? Is that the Ocracoke of the ancient world (it is on the coast)? We don’t know. Is it get out of dodge and duck the authorities while the heat dies down back in the Galilee? Maybe that too. Again, who knows.
Regardless, he’s there with his disciples.
Just then, (I love it when Matthew uses the language of a Gene Autry film) a Canaanite woman came up and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David: my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Now shouting makes most people uncomfortable, especially if it is unexpected and in a public space. Add on top of that, you’re in the 1st century, woman have no visible public role, are regarded well below second class citizens (if that at all), and here one comes shouting at a foreigner. Awwkward….
But before we move on, just look at what she said,
-have mercy on me…not a thing wrong with that
-Lord, Son of David…again, that’s who Jesus is, can’t find fault with that one,
-my daughter is tormented with demons…an accurate depiction of the facts of her daughter’s medical and spiritual condition
-the shouting…of course she’s shouting, she’s a mom exasperated by her daughter’s deteriorating health and will do anything to save her
I ask you, is there anything wrong with what this woman his done?
Nothing. Let me answer that one for you. Nada, zip, zero.
So what does Jesus do? He goes straight over to her house and heals the girl like he’s done time and time before, right?
He ignored her. He ignored her flat out.
Here is where I wince. I wince Big. Huge. Like OOMPH in the gut.
Some preachers will tell you that Jesus must have had some sort of deep seated theological reason for doing this and wanted to test her faith.
No, he was having a bad day.
He got up on the wrong side of the palette that morning. He was being downright mean.
Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. This is human side being a bit of a jerk.
The disciples came to him and said, “let us send her away, this crazy woman keep shouting after us, we have got to get rid of her.” They cannot relax, eat their hot wings, or do whatever they are doing in peace as long as this woman is there screaming her head off.
Finally Jesus talks to her:
This is going to set things straight. He’s going to make up for ignoring her earlier. So what does he say:
It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
What did you say Jesus?
It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
Oh, so you’re saying you’re food is for the children of Israel is and helping this Canaanite women would be like giving good food away to a dog. So this woman is a dog. A female dog.
I’m wincing again. You have got to be kidding me.
It just went from bad to worse. He just didn’t say that. Someone stop him. This is not the Jesus I know and love calling my Canaanite sister the b-word.
What has this woman done to deserve this? Other than be born in a first century misogynistic culture, I’m screaming myself now, Jesus, what has happened to you, you know better!
Then something happens. My Canaanite sister, she ain’t afraid of nobody.
Whether it’s this man from Galilee who’s been rude to her or his 12 friends. Her little girl is dying.
She’s got a comeback for this grouchy man and his mean friends. She’s not going to go down without a fight. She’s like a Rosa Parks, a Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. She’s going to answer injustice with truth in action.
She says, “Lord, you may call me a dog but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall under the master’s table.”
Something about that reply snapped him back into place. It took this foreign woman of color to show him just how wrong he had been.
Just as Jesus can’t ignore the world, we can’t ignore the world. We can’t ignore Jesus. Two wrongs do not make a right. If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, and you got up, and you’re ignoring misery, human suffering, pain, and people who need to be brought close to Jesus; start listening, listening to their comebacks, be willing to be put in your place, and if that’s not working, go back to bed and get up again. And say snap me back, put me in my place, bring me back to where I need to be, close to Jesus, not where I’m ignoring, not where I’m mean, but where I see everyone and hear those who shout and whisper those Holy words:
Savior, savior, hear my humble cry;
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.