Posted by on Aug 14, 2020 in Pastor's Blog | Comments Off on Bound Together in Unity

Dear Lord…in our readings this morning, we are often confused and questioning what has happened since the feeding of the 5000 and you calming the waters of the Sea of Galilee and saving Peter from drowning. But, you are asking us to remember what Jesus mission was and to find some information about the mission in these passages. Be with us in our reading of the passages and enlighten our hearts to your word.

The gospel message for the 11th Sunday of Pentecost is from Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28. These verses follow a healing that Jesus had done right after he and the disciples had gotten out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee. People recognized Jesus and flocked to see him, hear him and to touch his robe to be healed.

Also, in the first part of Chapter 15, the Pharisees came out of Jerusalem to question Jesus on the “clean and unclean” traditions of the Jewish faith. Please keep in mind that they are accusing Jesus of not keeping “the tradition of the elders” that are part of the Jewish oral traditions, not what was written in the Torah. These are “rules” they have made up themselves to follow that have nothing to do with worshiping the God who created them.

In verses 10-20, Jesus counters their objections with a different question that is done purposely to bring the crowd into the discussion that will bring the tradition of the elders into question by all. He does this with a simple question about what “defiles” a person…relating to what goes in and comes out of a person’s mouth.

The Pharisees had neglected the scripture and Jesus was telling the crowd and the disciples that it is not what goes into the mouth that is the problem. The problem is what comes from the heart that hurts people and defiles God’s laws. Peter asked Jesus to explain the parable. It was a little shocking to Jesus that the disciples did not understand what he was saying, but he did go on to tell them that the harmful actions and words that are expressed by a person to others show a person’s character and defile the person. In other words…what comes from the heart and is either spoken or shown through actions shows the real character of a person.

This is a very pointed, specific statement Jesus is making to the Jewish rulers of the temple. He is doing it because they have turned the people in the temple away from the law of God…to elevate themselves in the eyes of the people. Jesus was given the task by God to bring the Jewish people back to worship of the one who saved them from the wilderness and persecution many years before. So…here is one aspect of the mission of Jesus, very specifically shown to us.

The second part of this gospel reading is showing us the other aspect of Jesus’ mission on earth. It is time for Jesus to be showing these specific areas to the disciples as they will soon be going out to proclaim the love, grace and salvation that is offered to them through belief in God and acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and savior.

In these verses, Jesus and the disciples have traveled about one day from the Sea of Galilee to the area of Tyre and Sidon. This area is populated primarily by Canaanites who are natives of this area.

The Canaanites were conquered by the Israelites and have been considered as a lesser group of people…often referred to as “dogs” and viewed by each other as inferior and unworthy. It is exactly the view that fuels racism and slavery.

The Canaanite woman came up to Jesus and was shouting that she wanted him to heal her daughter. She called Jesus, “Son of God”. Can you imagine…a Canaanite calling Jesus “Son of God”…when many people didn’t believe this? Where this woman had learned of Jesus, we really do not know. She may have been a part of the crowd that was fed by Jesus. She may have heard about him from talking to people who had been there.

The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the woman to have her stop shouting. But, here was an opportunity for teaching the disciples as well as checking out the woman to see if she was really a believer.

Many scholars question why Jesus answered her as he did, with the reference to the fact he came to minister to Israel and that he spoke of her as a “dog”. However, the woman was persistent. She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter. One scholar I read indicated that Jesus often put a “stumbling block” in the way of the person talking with him to see if they would stumble over the block, or step over the block in faith.

The woman was persistent and responded to Jesus “stumbling block” by stating that all people will be benefitted by the food given by God, no matter who they are or where there nation of origin was. She recognized that some of the food given to the Jews were also a benefit for the Gentiles. Jesus was impressed with her response and praised her faith and healed her daughter.

Please remember that Jesus first mission was to the Jews. However, this incident with the Canaanite woman shows us for the first time Jesus mission will be to all people…not just one group of believers. This is a very pointed, specific message to the disciples, also, that their mission will be to all people. I also feel that watching Jesus interact with the woman would have been an education in listening to everyone…to what they believed and to not reject anyone. Many times, Jesus used such times as this for teaching all of us.

What does this say to us? That we are to be inclusive. We are to accept people as they are. We are to remember that our actions and words come from the heart. Are these actions and words coming from the love we have been given by God to give to others? Are these actions and words coming from other places that do not reflect God’s love for His people?

Just as Jesus showed love and mercy to the woman from Canaan, we are to show mercy to others in our world. Just as the woman professed loyalty to the God of Israel…so are we to do the same. Through this week, how are we going to show mercy to God’s people?

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