This is the sermon I will be preaching tomorrow at St.Timothy Lutheran Church's Drive-In Service. If you're in the Bemus Point/Jamestown, NY area, join us a 10 for a 30-minute service in our parking lot. You can worship from the comfort and safety of your car.
There are some oddities in today’s gospel story. A foreign woman approaches Jesus and the disciples. The disciples seem to rebuff her while Jesus ignores her and then insults her. Is this the Jesus we expect? No! But we need to remember that Jesus is also human and fully so.
Who is this woman approaching Jesus and the disciples? She’s a Canaanite, meaning she’s a gentile and she is nameless. A gentile and a woman--that’s two strikes against her! However, there are three Canaanite women in Jesus’ lineage: Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth (Matthew 1:3,5). Her people’s blood runs through Jesus’ veins and Jesus’ people’s blood runs through hers.
As the woman approaches, she starts shouting! The Greek indicates it was a crazed screeching. The Greek word krazo even sounds like crazed. Jesus just ignored her.
Frankly, it was more than the disciples could bear. No wonder they were so bothered, a woman screeching away asking for healing for her daughter. They had witnessed Jesus’ healing miracles. At first glance, it’s easy to be hard on the disciples as they want Jesus to send the woman away because “she keeps shouting after us.” She seems like a nuisance. But the request can be interpreted as signaling the disciples' desire that Jesus sends her away with a blessing/healing.
Jesus responds negatively to the disciples’ request; reminding them of what they should already know. He has been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. At least that’s the case throughout most of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In today’s parlance, we would say Jesus just wanted to “stay in his lane.”
All screeching aside, the woman approached Jesus in a stance of faith. In her words, we hear echoes of psalms and liturgy: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David,” she knelt before Jesus, and three times she referred to Jesus as “Lord.” This was prayer. Where did she from a pagan background learn all of this about Jesus? We don’t know, but she was certainly persistent!
And Jesus responds to her by calling her and her people dogs. Such harsh words from Jesus’ lips! Jesus’ humanity encourages me when I have trouble with the words that come out of my mouth.
ELCA Deacon Cory Driver describes the exchange in this way:
She tartly responds to Jesus, who may not have even spoken the last sentence to her but to his disciples: “Yes Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” This is so brilliant, so cutting and so funny. The woman reminds Jesus that he is in Sidon, where there are no Israelite children anxious to feed on this bread of life. Instead, she calls Jesus a crumb that has fallen off the table, with no one even noticing. She is content with the self-exiled messiah because he is all she needs for her daughter to be made well. Hearing her super-witty retort, Jesus calls it “great faith” and heals her daughter on the spot.
As a man, Jesus was a product of his time and place; with unconscious biases, prejudices, and entitlements of his culture. At the same time, he is God incarnate, a holy Son still working out the scope and meaning of the work his Father has given him. Even Jesus has to learn how radically good the Good News is (Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus.net).
The woman pleaded with Jesus on her daughter’s behalf. We are called to plead on behalf of others. In other words, is our sharing of the Good News good enough? Do we include people we'd rather not be around—you know the ones you see coming in the supermarket and decide to change the aisle you're going to so you can avoid them? I must admit that I have done this. Yet, I am encouraged that Jesus struggled at times with the vastness of his Father’s grace and mercy for everyone, not just the Jewish people.
In these difficult times, everything depends on exactly how good the Good News really is. If it is only for people who look and think as I do or for the people I really like, then it is not good enough. Is it Good News yet for those dying of COVID 19? Is it Good News yet for the hungry, the prisoners, the unemployed, and the homeless? What about those struggling with addiction and abuse and those we’ve been conditioned all our lives to ignore?
Jesus has shown us that we can grow in our love of others. The bottom line that we dare not ignore is, “If it’s not Good News for everyone, then it’s not good enough yet” (Thomas). Period.
Now may the God of all grace give us the will to share the great Good News that heals all! Amen.