Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-28
"What Comes Out"
P Good morning!
M Good morning… Where’s Beaky?
P I don’t know…
M There you are! Hi, Beaky! Where’ve you been?
B Ack… Ack… Ptooey!
P What’s the matter?
B Have you … ack … ever tasted … pth … soap?
M No… why?
B Well, my cousin, you know, the one who lived in Paris?
B Well, my cousin learned to talk with a few—shall we say—extra words over there…
P Extra words?
B You know—BAD words!
M You don’t have to go to Paris to hear people using bad words…
P No, you certainly don’t!
B Well, anyway, that’s the excuse my cousin tried to use to Grampa.
M Your cousin said bad words to your grampa?
B Well… not TO Grampa, but when Grampa was listening.
P Apparently your Grampa was not impressed.
B No! So Grampa said when he was little, if he used bad words like that, his parents would wash his mouth out with soap!
M So did your grampa do that with your cousin?
B No. We were visiting online, so he couldn’t really. He just was talking about what would have happened to him if he had talked like that.
P I see.
M Is that what Jesus was talking about in today’s story?
P Sort of. Jesus said that when we say things that are bad, usually things that hurt other people, that shows that there’s something wrong inside.
B Why’d he say that?
P Well, the people were used to following all kinds of rules, and one of them was about washing your hands before eating.
M Doesn’t everyone do that?
P Well, it’s a good idea! Especially with all the germs around there that can make us sick if they get inside!
B Was Jesus not worried about getting sick?
P Jesus was responding to the Pharisees’ accusation that not washing hands actually made people sinful, or ungodly.
M Sometimes I forget…
B Me, too!
P Guess what? Sometimes even I forget, and I’ve had a lot more years of practice!
B Really? You forget?
P I think we all get careless about washing our hands. That’s one thing this pandemic has helped to remind us. We have signs by every sink in the church to help people to wash their hands well… but the shutdown happened before very many were able to see them.
M That’s too bad.
B But I saw it… I just don’t remember where…
P We put it into the newsletter a couple times.
M Yeah! I cut it out and put it on my wall!
P It’s really good to wash your hands before eating, but not doing so doesn’t make us unacceptable to God.
B Even if it makes us sick?
P Even if we get sick because we were careless.
M But, Beaky… did your grampa have to wash YOUR mouth out with soap? Did you use bad words?
B No, at least not where Grampa could hear…
M Then, why?
P Were you trying to see how bad it could be? Just in case?
B Sort of… It’s pretty awful!
P Today, it’s probably the perfumes that make it so awful. When your grampa was little, it was probably lye… which is a lot like bleach.
M That’s REALLY bad!
B But—doesn’t keeping it inside make it worse? That’s what my cousin said…
P Actually, what we do can help to shape what we are. When we keep ourselves from saying things that hurt other people, our hearts can change for the better.
M Does this make God like us better?
P God loves us regardless, and God uses stories like this to help us to love one another, so that they can experience God’s love through us.
B That’s kind of amazing!
P It is, isn’t it?
M And we don’t have to eat soap to learn it!
B I didn’t eat it!
P And let’s hope we never do! Let’s pray: Dear God, help us to do things that help people to experience God’s love in this world.
"People Like Me"
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
After writing down my title, I realized how easily it could be misinterpreted. In this title, “like” is not a verb! I’m not saying that people like me—rather the opposite. I’m identifying myself with the person in the story who is disliked by the in crowd.
For obvious reasons, I don’t often put myself on the outside of the group identifying as followers of Jesus. Probably like many in the congregation, I cannot even point to a time in my history when I believed myself to be outside to promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. Why, then, do I identify with this woman, this creature slurred as a cur by Jesus, the personification of God’s love?
What was that? Did I say, “slurred as a cur?” Yes. Jesus, the epitome of God’s love, uses what sounds to me like an ethnic slur that denounces this woman as a dog, as one unworthy to receive the gifts that belong to God’s people.
People through the ages have done their best to nicefy what Jesus says, trying to justify his words as being playful, or endearing, or something other than dismissive.
However, I identify with this woman being dismissed, because I know what that’s like.
People like me are used to being dismissed, and there are a lot of people in this world who are dismissed for other reasons that I can’t claim.
We are all guilty of dismissing others for one reason or another. Sometimes we dismiss them because of their age. They seem too old to understand, or too young to have learned. Maybe we dismiss people because they speak differently, with accent or language we cannot or choose not to try to decipher. Some we dismiss because of a perceived lack of intelligence… Or, maybe we dismiss people because of body piercings or tattoos… Do we dismiss them because of addictions? Does it matter what the addiction is? Maybe they’ve been in trouble for something, so we turn away…
In our story, the woman is described as being a Canaanite, but we don’t have reliable information of what exactly that means. Canaan no longer existed, and the word hadn't been used for hundreds of years. There are no fewer than four distinct places that may have been the location of Cana in our Bibles, any of which may have been where Jesus attended a wedding and performed what is known as the first of his miraculous signs. This story, though, has nothing to do with that wedding, at which Jesus displayed God’s favor and God’s welcome of the celebration. This woman is not initially gifted with anything like several large containers of exquisite wine. Instead, she is first ignored, then denied, dismissed as unworthy.
We can’t say for certain why Jesus dismisses her. We can take him at his word, calling her a dog, unworthy of the gifts intended for the children of Israel, but that seems to me to deny God’s generosity, God’s mercy, God’s very nature. Why does Jesus dismiss her?
Do you know what it is like to be dismissed? If not, the rest of us might actually envy you a little bit, because none of us wants to experience that hurt, that deflation, that disrespect. People like me know what it’s like. People unlike me know what it’s like, for all different kinds of reasons. We know what it’s like to be told we don’t matter, for all the wrong reasons!
… and sometimes—the right reasons.
Sometimes, we earn our dismissal, like those times we try to depend upon our own self-righteousness—like the Pharisees to whom Jesus was responding in the first part of story. My self-righteousness does NOT make me matter when I use it to justify the dismissal, or the injustice suffered by another. My self-righteousness, my identification with the disciples in today’s story, pushing away the woman begging Jesus for a crumb earns me no praise.
Instead, Jesus finally praises not the Pharisees in their self-righteousness, not the disciples in their efforts to shield Jesus from the begging woman, but the one he had called a dog. Jesus hears the one easily dismissed because of her nationality, because of her gender, because of any number of reasons. Jesus sees this one easily dismissed by the in crowd. And in this one he had called a dog, Jesus recognizes faith. Jesus recognizes a faith which depends upon God’s power through the mercy of the same Jesus who in this story initially ignores her, dismisses her as an unworthy dog. And—Jesus heals the daughter of this woman, a gift worth much more than six huge containers of wine. Jesus heals someone like me, someone unworthy, someone anonymous, someone unknown…
God loves and calls people like me. God loves and calls people like you. God heals you, and gives you the opportunity to respond, to share God’s love. God loves you, and everyone around you. In Jesus’ name. Amen