You have a voice, God hears you and will answer; but everyone else has a voice, too, all are welcome, so you’ll want to get on that path.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 20 A
Text: Matthew 15:(10-20)21-28
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This is absolutely clear and certain: from very early in the Church’s life, the mission was to all people, Jews and non-Jews.
It began with Jesus, God-with-us, who reached out inside and outside Jewish boundaries, and it continued in the early Church with the ministries of Philip and Paul, and then beyond. This wasn’t without conflict and tension. Many of Paul’s communities struggled to live into this multi-cultural life in Christ. The Jewish Christian leadership in Jerusalem needed convincing. But from nearly the beginning, the mission was to all people on earth.
The question is, when did Jesus know that? Luke and John suggest this was the plan from the start, John reaching back to the creation itself, Luke foreshadowing it before Jesus’ birth, and making it clear in Jesus’ first sermon. But Matthew and Mark seem to see it differently. Before this, there’s a healing of a centurion’s servant in Matthew, and in both Mark and Matthew a Gentile demoniac is healed. But the mission is overwhelmingly to the Jewish people so far.
Only Matthew and Mark tell today’s story, and it feels like a turning point. In their narratives, this is when Jesus truly embraces a new path, re-focusing the entire Christian mission in the world.
Which means this woman is the one you really need to be looking at.
She’s Canaanite, not Israelite. She’s definitively outside every boundary Jesus and his followers have. She has no standing with them, no voice, no power, no reason they should heed her. Yet she’s heard enough of this Jewish rabbi that she knows this man might have an answer to her desperation over her daughter’s mental and spiritual health. So she comes and asks for help.
First Jesus seems to ignore her. Then, when the disciples want her sent away, he appears to affirm them, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” In effect, “she’s not my problem.”
But she won’t have that.
2,000 years before “and yet, she persisted,” Matthew anticipates that bravery. He starts verse 25: “But she came.” She came? She was already there. Which means after verse 24 and Jesus’ declaration, the disciples started moving her out of Jesus’ presence. But she came. Pushed them aside. Did what she had to do.
She claimed her voice, her right to ask. And in response, Jesus uses an unmistakable racial slur, saying you don’t take children’s food and give it to dogs. You don’t need to grasp ancient idioms to hear how horrible and indefensible that is. It would be just as insulting and awful for anyone to compare human beings that way today. And people do that today.
But she came. Even when Jesus called her a dog, this marvelous, beautiful woman claimed her voice again, said, “fine, call me a dog. But even dogs get crumbs.” And she broke Jesus. For the second and last time in Matthew, Jesus praises someone’s faith, and once again it’s a Gentile. Second time’s the charm, because now Jesus is changed. She reminds him of his love for all God’s children, and that she herself is a beloved child of God. He hears her. He heals her daughter.
And the floodgates open.
From here, Jesus immediately continues around the north side of the Sea of Galilee, in Gentile territory, and does all kinds of healings and exorcisms. Then he feeds another huge crowd, this time 4,000 or more, all Gentiles. The abundance of God’s bread of life is now for all the world.
She started that. She might be the most important person in the history of the Church. And if you’re troubled by Jesus’ language, and you should be, please note the very rare thing Jesus does: he hears the powerless person and changes his mind and direction. The insult, the rejection of someone who isn’t his concern, people in power do that all the time. But Jesus listens, and this woman changes his mind. And the world was never the same.
There are two things to note:
First, if you’ve been marginalized, oppressed, your voice has been disregarded, she’s your hero.
If people’ve ignored you, your gifts, your thoughts, your opinions, if your suffering or experience has been discounted because of who you are, or because you were raising inconvenient and threatening things to people in power, this woman says, just keep coming.
Claim your voice. Ask your question. Tell your truth. Even if followers of God’s Christ push you away, ignore you, marginalize you, even if God seems to, don’t let them. Be the one of whom the narrator says, “but she came.” Because God will hear you, and you may even change God’s mind. Your voice counts, you count, and you are beloved child of God.
But if you’re a follower of this Christ, God-with-us, learn from this.
If you’re following Jesus, and wish he’d send away all the people with inconvenient voices, all who don’t believe as you do or think as you do or look like you or act like you, watch Jesus carefully here.
If you’re tired of people saying they’d like you to use different language to refer to them, tired of people calling you privileged, tired of people talking about their suffering and saying they experience a very different world than you; if you’re tired of those saying they don’t feel safe with the same police you’ve always trusted; if you wish all these voices would go away so you could just be with Jesus, watch Jesus very carefully here.
Because this is where God-with-us takes a fork in the road. And that path is going to lead further and further away if you miss the turns he makes.
The road of Christ divides here, whether it was new to Jesus or always the plan.
The Triune God who lived among us as Jesus, the Incarnate One, and now lives among us as the Holy Spirit in each of us, is also living and moving in all people. Because all people are God’s children, not dogs.
This is the mission. And the one you’re following is going on this divergent road. Along with all those voices that are inconvenient and challenging, with all those who change God’s mind from time to time. There’s every reason in the world to follow Jesus on his fork in the road and absolutely none to stay in the other direction. One way leads to life for you and for all. The other leads to death, because there is no hope or love or joy on it.
And remember: the good news is for all. Even if you’re worried about taking this diverging road, even you can come to God, claim your voice, and be heard. Because you, and all, are beloved children of God.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen