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Pentecost 11A Sermon
Matthew 15: 10-28
16, 2020


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Matthew 15:10-28

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Have you ever seen the Sunday comic, “The Family Circus?” One of my favorites is the one where the first panel shows mom giving little Billy a letter saying, “Quick Billy, run this out to the mailbox. It has to go out today.” The rest of the comic is a cut-away view of the house with a dotted line showing his route. Instead of running straight to the mailbox, Billy winds his way to the kitchen, jumping up on a chair to check out the sink; he then hops up and bounces on the couch where his sister is reading a book, followed by a lap around the dining room table and a crawl under one of the chairs. He skips past his little brother watching television in the family room, bounces down the easy chair, hops in and out of the play pen, turns three circles, and pets the dog before finally going out the front door. When outside he jumps over the flowers a couple of times, twirls around the lamp post and finally gets to his destination – the mailbox … where he yells back into the house, “Too late mommy; we just missed him!”

When I saw the reference to the land of Tyre and Sidon in our Gospel reading, I decided to look at some maps of the middle east in Jesus’ day to get a sense of where this was in relation to the places Jesus has been and will be going next. I know that lately we have seen Jesus in Capernaum and Gennessaret, and that he will soon be going to Caesarea Philippi. One map tracked Jesus’ route during these few chapters of Matthew’s gospel which recount the heart of Jesus’ ministry and I must say, there is no rhyme or reason behind it. The best way to describe what you see when you sit back and look at the lines of his route is that it sort of draws the head and ears of bugs bunny. Much of like Billy’s circuitous route to the mailbox, Jesus rarely travels in a straight line, and there is a good reason for that.

Imagine that you are one of the disciples of Jesus on this extended jaunt around the northern part of the middle east. At every stop, you’ve witnessed some pretty incredible stuff, what with all of the healings, teachings, feedings and him walking on water. It hasn’t always been pretty, since the religious leaders keep catching up to him, trying to trip him up so that they can shame him in front of the crowds who seem to love him. Then there have been the times when Jesus has turned his attention to them – mostly those are gracious times, but he can be a little short with them: He tells them, “you give them something to eat!” for example. And of course, there are multiple times when Jesus has called Peter or other disciples, “ye of little faith.” It is not meant to be an insult … just to point out that their faith is not what earns God’s love. They have faith, and even if it is a little faith, that little faith is enough to be blessed by God’s mercy.
So when Jesus takes that bunny ear loop through the district of Tyre and Sidon – a foreign land which has not been friendly or accepting to Jesus as a whole – and he allows a Canaanite Woman to engage with him in conversation, the disciples must have been confused and more than a little uncomfortable. Sure, he ignores her at first, like society dictates he should. After all, besides being a woman, she is a Canaanite. She doesn’t follow any of the rules that God’s people follow, and they have no obligation to show her the time of day. But she persists – her daughter is being tormented by a demon – she has some sort of mental illness which cannot be treated by their limited medical know-how and brings a terrible stigma to her family. Mental illness still does that – we have sympathy for someone who has cancer, but often look down upon someone who is bipolar.

Anyway, they must have had a little smirk on their faces when Jesus first tells her that he has only come to the lost sheep of Israel, and then explains how it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. He seems to be likening her to a dog which, even though dogs in that society were domesticated and treated almost like members of the family, no one wants to be compared to a dog. But she persists, and when she answers that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, her persistence and her faith catch Jesus’ attention. Imagine being one of the disciples, who had been called, “little faith ones” on more than one occasion, hearing Jesus tell this woman that her faith is great! It must have cut them to the core!

Which brings me back to Jesus’ circuitous route. Jesus’ journey is not like a typical trip from one place to another to visit friends or family, or to see another part of the world. Jesus’ mission is to open wide the tent of God’s faithful people. He is in foreign territory, a place that has not really accepted his presence in the past. He may have even been wondering if he would be able to accomplish the healing that he was able to do in Judea and Galilee! But he goes, and he pronounces this woman’s daughter healed, and she is instantly healed of whatever demon has been tormenting her, and now she has experienced the love of God in a close, personal way.

The value of this journey is not in the arrival at a destination. The value of this journey is in the people that Jesus meets and loves along the way. If he were to go straight to the Galilean Lake and straight back to Jerusalem, he would never have healed, fed or loved so many people who were craving God’s presence in their lives. This woman personifies the kind of people that Jesus touched during this journey. People who have been judged for one reason as another as not worthy to receive the same kind of mercy from God that people of Judea and Galilee receive. I sometimes wonder what makes someone else so bad that I judge them unworthy to receive the same mercy that I receive daily from God in my life? Of course, the answer is in my own judgement. We are really bad judges of things. All of us – myself included. I always judge myself in a much kinder light than I do others, so in my sinfulness I am less likely to acknowledge someone else’s need and desire for mercy to be shown to them. But Jesus looped and journeyed, travelled and interacted with all sorts of folks that his culture told him don’t deserve God’s mercy. And in so doing, he exhibits the kind of love that God shares with all of God’s creatures – a love that we are called to share, even though, in our sinfulness, we can never do it perfectly.

And this woman, she exhibits two things that we should admire and strive to copy. She exhibits persistence and faith. I am not sure which one comes first, and which one encourages the other: does faith engender persistence, or does persistence feed faith? My sense is that it is a little bit of both. And seeing this one, who was not part of the accepted community, be commended for these attributes reminds me that others who I may no accept as part of my community may have attributes which Jesus commends. My little-faithedness is humbled by those of great faith that I might never have considered my sister or brother.

If we were honest, we would admit that we are all on circuitous routes in life – judging some, loving others, striving to be faithful along the way. I give thanks to God today that Jesus showed a persistent faith toward this woman in healing her daughter even though she was judged undeserving by his own disciples. And I give thanks that God’s faith in us, God’s mercy, grace and love for us, is perfectly persistent and will pursue us no matter where this journey of life takes us. Amen.