Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
You think you know a person and then they do something that blows you away. It might be a good thing; it might be a bad thing. But to you it is so out of character that you can hardly recognize them.
I remember when my grandmother swore in front of me. I was shocked. As it turns out she had a pretty colorful vocabulary but around us grandchildren she would say “Oh sugar” when something wasn’t going quite right. But one day she let it rip. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about that.
People are and should be complex. But we want them to fit into our preconceived notions and when we don’t we aren’t sure what to do. But then on the other hand, we want others to accept us for all of our complexity.
This is what makes relationships so hard and understanding and accepting each other so complicated.
This is what makes this Gospel lesson so relevant.
We think we know Jesus. He is Savior of the world. Lover of everyone. Not given to crudeness and certainly not prejudice.
Yet, here in Matthew 15 he does both. He is crude and he demonstrates bigotry if not down right prejudice.
Our English translations don’t convey the crudeness of what Jesus tells his disciples. You think it is about nasty talk or swearing or rudeness. Like what I heard my grandmother say that one fateful day. Jesus says, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” What he really is saying in the Greek language of the day is: what is vomited/spewed/upchucked out of the mouth. But when asked to explain it he is more revealing: What comes out of the mouth is even worse than what gets deposited in the sewer/toilet.
Sorry, I know it is Sunday morning and you have all had or are looking forward to a nice Sunday meal. But Jesus said it so we need to hear it. What comes out of mouths can be worse than what comes out the other end.
But Jesus wasn’t talking about swearing. Or even crude jokes or nasty stories. He was actually using a nasty story to illustrate his point.
I don’t know exactly what happened in Ferguson Missouri this week. No one will ever know what exactly happened. But we do know that a snap judgment on the part of a police officer with a weapon took the life of an unarmed teenage boy. We do know that something in that police officer’s heart was vomited out of his mouth, metaphorically, and a teenager died. Was it fear? Hatred? Prejudice? Anger at what his neighborhood was becoming? Was it power? Violence? The inability to see justice? To only see vengeance or revenge?
We don’t know. We can’t know.
But we do know is that his act precipitated more acts of violence, hatred, fear, power, abuse of power and a world of hurt.
We saw the flames, the bruises from rubber bullets, the mobs. We saw the vomit.
We have been seeing too much of it lately. In Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Missouri…
Jesus must have been seeing too much of it, too. Because he feels the need to call it out.
People, you think that you are being holy and good because you are practicing all of your religious and cultural traditions. You are careful what you eat or what you drink. But it is nothing. No actually it is worse than nothing, it is disgusting because your blindness to your neighbor is creating a world of hurt. Your insistence on your own holiness, rightness, goodness is creating a worse stench in the land than the sewer.
Do you ever drive between Chatfield and Stewartville on 30? You know that farm that has the open manure pit? Have you ever driven by when the wind is just right? That is a nicer smell than the stuff that comes out of our mouths when our hearts are self centered and self-serving. When we look at our neighbor with suspicion rather than trust.
Are these hard words to hear? Absolutely. Absolutely. Are they necessary? Absolutely. We sit watching the events of the world unfold around us and we wonder, why? How? And maybe we are thankful that we live in a quiet community in the middle of rural America.
But before we become complacent we need to hear the rest of the Gospel lesson. It is as if the gospel writer is saying: whew those were hard words; now let us see what happens to Jesus. Just to remind us that we all have some work to do. All of us who are human beings have some work to do, including the son of Man, Jesus.
Enter the Canaanite Woman. A non-Jew. An enemy of Israel.
Here we have Jesus who had just taught his followers that they were not to be hung up on their traditions and their customs and their preconceived ideas about others. Here we have Jesus in a place outside of Israel trying to find some solitude.
Here we have Jesus ignoring a woman in need. A woman crying out with great agony because her daughter is sick.
When Jesus does speak to her it is not with the words we expect is it? “ I have come only to the people of Israel. In other words, not you. You are a gentile not a Jew. I have not come to this place to minister to you. It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Of all the passages in the bible I think this one is the hardest to hear. My Jesus saying something like that.
My Jesus disrespecting a woman in need.
He is more complex that I want to allow him to be.
He is more human than I want him to be.
He is tired, depressed, needing rest, and like most humans under stress, he reverts to his cultural biases. What he has been taught by his peers. Canaanites are not worth the time of day. They are dangerous idolaters and could never be God’s people.
But this woman won’t have it. She won’t allow him to revert. She won’t allow him to sin. She won’t allow him to become like so many others, unable to see the good in the enemy.
Jesus needed to see and be with a person of such great faith as this Canaanite woman. He NEEDED her to remind him of his true nature. His true way of being in the world.
He NEEDED her just like we need people in our lives to remind us: when we get tired or scared or confused. When it seems like the world is going up in flames and we are tempted to take a side. Chose an enemy. To revert to our cultural biases and traditons. To spew vomit. We need Canaanite women in our lives.
This week a Dutch man, Henk Zanoli, gave back his Righteous Among the Nations Award. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2014/08/europe-and-israel)
Zanoli and his family suffered gretly because his family harbored Jews during WW2. The Nazis murdered his brother and brother-in-law; his father was died in a concentration camp.
In the current conflict in Gaza, some of Zanoli’s extended family were killed by Israeli bombs. The very people he saved killed his family. So, he gave back his award. Saying eloquently and powerfully that Israel was now committing war crimes.
That is conviction, bravery and discipleship. That is being a Canaanite woman to the nation of Israel.
We saw other Canaanite women this week. In Ferguson, a police officer who led a peaceful protest march, a pastor who took a rubber bullet in her stomach while leading a prayer vigil. Friends who spoke words of comfort and clarity and charity in to the news of depression and suicide.
Canaanite women who changed the story from one of hatred and bias to a message of Salvation. We need such saving.
WE need and have a Savior. Who has smelled the worst that we could offer. Who has stepped back from the edge of the sewer. Who knows our every weakness. And who has taught us how to live.
And who has taught us how to live.