Originally posted by vistesd
Just need a sermon, Rev. Your choice of text. Don’t blow me off: I’m dead serious. Take your time...
Note: For those who don’t know, though I generally bill myself as a Zennist, Kirk is as close as I’ve got these days to a spiritual mentor; no kidding. For those that question his doctrinal credentials—etc., ...[text shortened]... I could be more specific, I would. I know that’s not fair. But there it is. For all to see...
“Where’s My Moment of Grace?”
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severly possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him saying, “Lord help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat crumbs from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Several days ago I was listening to a musician reflect on his observations of children when they are very young. I found his perspective to be beautiful and somewhat sad at the same time. He said children have a unique gift in that they have a large window to view the grace of life through. Yet, as they get older that window of grace is such that it gets smaller as the events of life somehow make that view shrink in size to the point where as grown-ups grace doesn’t seem to come naturally or easily. I could easily have chosen the passage where Jesus says “Except you become as little children” as our text, but was more interested in the perspective at the other end of life. That time in life, often shared in these forums, where life, to put it bluntly, is damn hard. That “window of grace” seems to be a mere peep hole at best. I am afraid that if you live long enough you will need “glasses.”
Our passage today is one of the most difficult to understand in the teachings of Jesus. Too often this passage has been explained as Jesus testing this woman so her faith would be “better.” She presents herself as a sincere woman, yet Jesus responds in a way that makes that window of grace a bit smaller for her. Where was the interest as when Jesus said “who touched me”? Where was the hope of “cast your net on the other side”? Where was the receiving of the likes of Zacheus? For whatever reason, we don’t find it. Instead we find a man who seems distracted and ,at the very least, in touch with the prejudices of his day. We do this passage a disservice to deny this dynamic. But as people of faith who are on a journey, there is no need to fear the outcome of what we may find in this passage. Warts and all, let’s take a look into the mirror of this passage.
I want to suggest that this passage is about more than just a Canaanite woman who won’t let go of Jesus. There are essentially three characters and stories in this passage. A Canaanite woman who knows desparation. Jesus, described by this woman as the “Son of David”. And finally, let’s not forget the disciples. All three are integral to this story and I am operating on the belief that there is a little of all three of them in each one of us.
Let’s begin with the Canaanite woman. Like each one of us has been at some point in our lives, she is a wounded woman. Most interestingly, she breaks the rules of that culture and approaches Jesus on her own. There is no daddy to advocate for the demon possessed child. We can speculate that he had enough of the kid. Had enough of the hystrionics of his wife. He’s not there and she decides to take a risk because she cares more for her child than social conformity. She doesn’t play it safe. She’s a woman and she’s a foreigner and she has all the baggage that in today’s world we would associate with a poor single welfare mother who is raising an autistic kid in the projects. Who wants to be bothered with this kind of train wreck?
Yet, this woman is what we would call “street smart.” Have you ever known someone who has had a life of great adversity and out of that learned to see things differently and speak them differently. This was one such woman. She was out of necessity a woman who learned to verbally sparr and in this case it helped to make her case.
Jesus says in the gospel to “seek and you will find, ask and it shall be given”. This passage makes that a little more difficult to believe. And I think that is why this woman is so important in the Gospels. She, like us, doesn’t find the business of getting what you want in life easy. She has to keep coming back into a world that is scarce on the commodity of grace. She’s tried before. She has probably gone to various fortune tellers and sooth sayers and goes home everyday to this misfit wondering why nothing changes. If you have a spouse that you love who can’t give up the drugs, you know what this is like. If you go for job interview after job interview and come to an identity of being a professional leper, you know what that is like. If you have a kid who is limited for whatever reason and you know you are powerless to make life into a Disney movie, you know what that is like. For all of you, this woman could be your patron saint. Perhaps for us, we can identify with her courage in the face of a bad reality and her tenacity to go face to face with obstacles even when it may be “the Son of David.”
And now on to “the Son of David.” What in the world was he thinking.? I think Jesus might have been tired. The passage begins with him “withdrawing.” I can imagine that on some level Jesus may have been like us in this respect. Have you ever felt that there was just so much of yourself to go around? As I said earlier, this passage presents some problems for us as we look at Jesus’ interactions. Clearly full of irritation and prejudice. Is it too much for us to consider that Jesus was a product of his time? What if we take the risk and see the possibility that Jesus “grew in faith”.? We would naturally say that he grew in faith as he was not the same man at the end of his life as he was as a child. Would this be something for us to aspire to? Is there anything to be gained from this “scaling down” of Jesus? I’m sure that there are many people of faith who are offended by the idea of Jesus “growing in faith”. Perhaps it means he isn’t “perfect” or that he is not omniscient.
But for us today, we may have to simply walk away from this passage with questions and challenges. The Caananite woman is the heroine of the story, not Jesus. But for today, I give the Son of David the understanding that it is indeed hard to be around needy, dependent people. Who cannot identify with this personal limitation?
And finally, let’s address the final characters in our story. The disciples, who in this passage present themselves as that “club of conformity.” It’s an “all boys’ club” and what in the world is this woman doing here. As you will recall, this was not the first time the disciples had trouble with the club being defiled. They want her sent away. They are annoyed with her. Can’t we have a moment’s peace. I can relate to them. There are times when I’d rather not get involved. I’d rather be silent. I’d rather let others take on the burden of change and healing. I like my comfort zone.
A few years ago I moved to a very rural area and was surrounded by people who were much like this Caananite woman. They were very clear with their life problems. One of my daughters brought home several friends who all had a variety of problems. At first I felt a little smothered and invaded. Yet, I also learned that there was no strong male figure in any of these little girls’ lives. It was only natural I guess that they felt like our home was their home. I also learned that many of her friends didn’t eat well. They came to our house hungry. When I would ask them what they would like to eat and would cook for them, they were amazed. This was one of those situations where I felt “fed.” I had dto learn to put aside my irritation of my space being invaded and look at something bigger.
So where is our moment of grace? I can tell you the window of grace may get smaller as we get older, but we are also entrusted to have a role in the “window of grace” as we get older. I can no longer be a participant in a culture of collective indifference. I must be a risk taker like this woman. I must be able to take my inventory of “bad baggage” as Jesus did in this story. And I must also acknowledge my limitations and find a community to have that story come to life in new and creative ways. Yes, the window gets smaller and the efforts to make grace happen seem harder, but our story ends with the words “be it done for you as you desire.”
May this be the hope that we live for and struggle with.