From time to time the notes for the sermons will be availabale here to read.
Sermon notes on:
Matthew 15:21-28, Romans 11: 1-2, 29-32, Psalm 133, Genesis 45:1-15
Is Jesus a Racist?!! Headlines – White Supremacist meeting in Virginia, Michael Brown shooting: police, protesters clash again in Ferguson!
Jesus and his disciples travel from the Jewish territory, where they were born and raised in around the Galilean area, to the north and east territory by the Mediterranean Sea. The towns of Tyre and Sidon were port cities and were considered a non-Jewish area occupied by Canaanites but still under the Roman occupiers. The land of the Jews known today as Israel was previously the land of Canaan gentiles. The land of Canaan was the land that Abraham and Isaac were buried. It was from the land of Canaan that Jacob traveled to Egypt to live with Joseph his son during the famine we are reading about in this morning’s scripture. After Jacob died Joseph carried Jacob's remains back to this land of Canaan and gave him a stately burial in the same Cave as were buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Jacob's first wife, Leah.
This land of Canaan was the Promised Land that Moses led the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now formed as God’s chosen people, out of Egypt to occupy and claim this land that was promised by God to His chosen.
So when Jesus and his disciples arrived many of the inhabitants of this Tyre Sidon area were Canaanites who remained hostile to the Jews because the Jews conquered their land under Joshua after their exodus from Egypt.
The scriptures in Mark indicate that Jesus had brought his disciples to this region to avoid the multitudes of people that they were surrounded with everywhere they go. This was to be providing a time of rest. But the respite didn’t last very long.
Breaking into their quiet, peaceful sojourn comes a pagan, gentile, Canaanite woman interrupting their calm—crying out to Jesus, trying to get his attention. Obviously very loudly and very disruptive to the disciples, she was determined to get Jesus to notice her. This woman was not crying out to Jesus for herself, she was pleading for a healing of her terribly suffering, demon-possessed daughter.
It is clear that the word what out about Jesus, the word of mouth had even spread into this gentile community despite the fact that there was no twitter, no face book, no newspapers and no live TV coverage of events. The news had come even though Jesus had never set foot before in this area. Before this trip, Jesus entire ministry was to the Jews, the chosen of God before now.
This woman, however, believed the stories she heard about the healing of the paralytic, the blind men being healed and just recently the feeding of the 5000 plus and she believed this was a man like no other. This was her chance; maybe her only chance to actually see and plead her case before this Jesus. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly”. Haven’t you and I pleaded with God for someone we love who is suffering and seek His healing? We know her pain, don’t we?
Matthew records that Jesus makes no direct response to her, he seems to ignore her, he did not say a word. Does this seem like the loving Jesus we are so familiar with in our Bible? She is not disrespectful, this woman is addressing Him as Lord—she seems to know who He is, she seems to have faith in Him despite being a Canaanite.
What is Jesus up to in this behaviour? Doesn’t this smack of racism? Is Jesus a racist?!! I think the disciples take their cue from this apparent indifference. Vs 23: So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They didn’t plea her case, they didn’t come and ask Jesus to help her, no! They are concerned that she is bothering us, she is annoying, who does she think she is a Canaanite woman wanting help from us Jews.
Jesus doesn’t send her away but doesn’t speak to her directly about her plea for healing. Instead, he does explain himself to His disciples. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He is saying He is sent only to the chosen people, the people who came into your land as conquerors from the Exodus of Egypt, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph.
Now we, non Jews, who have read the book from cover to cover, know exclusivity is not His ultimate mission right? Readers of Matthew in this specific text are discovering something that doesn’t seem right about the character and actions of this man Jesus—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Hmmm?
This Canaanite woman obviously herd the response of Jesus but it did not deter her at all. She persisted in coming to Jesus, kneeling before Him and crying, “Lord, help me!” But again Jesus replied to her in a way that appears outright rude referring to her as a dog. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
This seems so out of character, so unkind for Jesus to say yet the disciples were probably hi-fiving each other in celebration. This is what we want to hear, putting these dogs in their place! The disciples had grown up, being told they were the chosen people, that they had a Messiah coming who would overcome the Roman pagan occupiers. They had learned and cheered the stories of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon, and Samson the heroes of the Torah. They were taught not to associate with non-Jews, not to intermarry with pagans like the Canaanites, they were all dogs, not worthy like themselves, children of God. This was the disciple’s ingrained attitude, their predisposition to non-Jews and Jesus appears to be reflecting their attitude. But was he?
It was Jesus who chose to come to this area of the unclean, this community populated by these ‘dogs’! Was He creating a teaching opportunity to prepare these very disciples for their mission to take the good news of salvation to the whole world, the whole world including the Jews? YES! Remember Matthew declares in 28:19 “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Clearly Jesus had a mandate from God His Father to bring the gospel of salvation to the Jews and to all God’s creation…but first He has to overcome generations and generations of prejudice, hate, discrimination, ingrained bigotry that is within His own disciples. The God of all history, the God of Creation of this earth and the whole universe, the Lord God Almighty needs to equip His Son’s disciples for their impending role—to take the message of salvation to world and be prepared to die if necessary for the sake of this message!
So was Jesus going to turn the table on prejudice and bigotry that very day? I believe YES! Clearly Yes! And by God’s providence this gentile, Canaanite woman, with a hurting heart for her daughter, was the means. Her determination, her faith in coming to Jesus was not being deterred by the ‘attitude’ of the disciples nor was she being taken in by Jesus repeating the historic tradition of the Jewish religion. This was the time, this was the occasion that Jesus could teach His disciples a most important understanding.
Her response to Jesus statement, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” was not going to prevent her from making her point …and appropriately Jesus point. Matthew and Mark both record she argues boldly and even contradicts him, “Yes it is, Lord,”“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” WOW!
She is agreeing with Jesus that the bread, the true bread of God is to come to the Jews but and this is the key point but even the dog’s or gentiles can receive the Master’s or God’s blessings if only the scraps and crumbs. The mere crumbs of God’s bread or blessings and mercy would be all it takes to overcome the evil spirits and to heal her daughter.
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.
She got it. She understood who Jesus is, her Master, her Messiah, and her daughter’s also. Jesus affirms she has a place at the table. This passage has earned its way into our Holy Communion liturgy, in the prayer of humble access. When we state that “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table Lord but you always delight in showing mercy.” WE know now what she understands that it is not who she is, where she is from, what her status in life is or what her race, colour or education that counts in receiving God’s mercy—it is her faith!. Some people have written that this Canaanite woman is the first gentile convert recorded in scriptures.
Paul, as you all know, was himself a rabid Jewish Christian hater converted to Christ, and he proclaims “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul affirms the Canaanite woman’s faith when he states, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I expect that Jesus had a lot to share about His mission and His disciple’s attitude, prejudices and mindset about gentiles, you and me. He was equipping them for their mission field as they leave this area and proceed to their next destination and destiny. They may have felt let down with the revelation that salvation was for all and not just the Jews. Paul addresses this plainly in today’s scripture.
“Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.”
Christ came into the world to save sinners and we all are sinners. We all have prejudices, and God wants us to face up to them and judge them in light of our personal salvation. Can we who have been saved by Jesus death and resurrection still retain prejudice and hate against Jews today? NO! Can we overcome the prejudice and hatred displayed by a few people in Charlottesville, Virginia, Ferguson Missouri or the prejudice of some Canadians against the people of Canada’s first nations? YES
We who have been saved by Jesus death and resurrection must share this same good news with all people—whatever their background, financial status, race, colour or position? Christ, our Saviour will judge us, you and me, if we are not a welcoming community to all who seek to discover their saviour in our community. Amen.
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