Monday, August 21, 2017

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15:21-28
August 20, 2017

So Jesus is in the Gentile area of the country, Tyre and Sidon,
the non-Jewish area. The woman is referred to as Canaanite.
The gospel of Mark refers to this woman as Syrophonician,
which would be gentile as well,
but Matthew goes one step further,
Canaan was on the land that was promised to Abraham.
Jesus Heals a Woman
Ed DeGuzman
Canaan was one of the 
places slated for destruction
in the book of Joshua, after the
Israelites returned from the wilderness.
By Jesus time, “Canaanites” was
basically a catch-all term for ethnic enemy.
The author of this story wants us to know that this woman
is as far outside of the clan 
of Judaism as one can get.
Not just a gentile, but a hated gentile.

So even if we didn’t want to
talk about race and prejudice
this morning, even if we wanted 
to give it a break after
all that’s been in the news 
this week about it,
Jesus still wants us to talk about it today.

A Canaanite woman comes up to Jesus because her daughter
is in trouble and she begs Jesus to help her.
But Jesus ignores her at first, and the disciples
try to get him to send her away. “She keeps yelling at us”, they say.
And then Jesus tells the woman what
 all the disciples were all thinking:
“I was only sent to the lost of the house of Israel.”
Basically, Jesus told her that he wouldn’t help her
because she wasn’t an Israelite,
She was not the right race.

Some people want to save Jesus here
and say that he was testing this desperate woman
so her faith would be exposed to them.
Or that he was using her to teach his disciples a lesson.
I think that’s reading into the text something that isn’t there.
And I don’t know that any of those interpretations put Jesus
in a much better light actually.

I mean we know that Jesus is fully human,
but we don’t want him to be too human.
We don’t want him to be wrong, even if it’s for a while.
We want him to have all the answers up front.
We certainly don’t want him to see people for their race.
But he, like all of us was brought up in a world
where people were separated by heritage.

Israelites often hated by other groups for
the different way they lived their lives, consequently,
they mostly insulated themselves for thousands of years,
so the promises of Yahweh they understood
to be for them alone.
The rest of the world would be blessed through
their blessing, but the blessing was theirs, it was often all they had.

And the Israelites weren’t the first to segregate themselves
prejudice and separation and division of heritage
 is as old as humanity.
Segregation naturally leads to suspicion, hatred,
dehumanization, and a feeling of superiority.
And it has been the way of the world almost forever.
Some might say it’s humanity’s original sin.

So we, in the US are not dealing with anything new or unique
but ironically, this country which has been made
up of immigrants from all other countries,
has made a 200 year hobby out of
legitimizing and legislating segregation
and has made it clear that one race is favored over all others.

Maybe it is specifically because
we are a melting pot, or a salad bowl or whatever
food analogy you want to use for this country,
that race has been more of an issue here.
Maybe we have been chosen to work on this and sort this all out.

But the inclination for groups to separate themselves
from each other is not new at all. 

Jesus initial refusal to help this Canaanite woman
at the beginning of the story, would have reflected the thoughts of
most of the people who would
have been following Jesus at that time.
Especially the people who would have heard Matthew’s gospel.

Scholars always remind us that the Christian church
started as a movement of Jewish people.
And whether gentiles should be included in Christianity
or not, was certainly a big topic of discussion at first.

So when the early church heard Jesus say to the woman,
“It isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”
Most of them probably weren’t offended by it,
They actually would have agreed with it.
Jesus would have been confirming their belief.

And the woman in the story understands the tradition too.
She doesn’t argue with its fairness or justice
but she appeals to Jesus compassion.
“Jesus, wasn’t it you who fed 5000 people
with five loaves and two fish?”
Jesus, didn’t you teach your disciples that God was abundant
Didn’t you tell them that there was enough for everyone?
Don’t the dogs under the table at least get the crumbs?”

And then, moved by his compassion and this Canaanite woman’s faith, 
Jesus does something wonderful.
Something that probably shocked the disciples
and other early followers of Jesus.
He changes his mind. 
He healed the woman’s daughter.
The God’s food was not just for one group of people,
it was for everyone.

In one act of openness and welcome and love
- Jesus heals this woman’s daughter of the demons,
- Jesus  opens the promises and covenants of Yahweh to the Gentiles
- And in the process, he changes thousands of years of tradition.
Just because it’s always been done this way,
 doesn’t mean that it has to always be like this.

White supremacy and this country and Christianity
Have been  intertwined in this country since the beginning.
The Doctrine of Discovery, was issued by  pope Alexander in 1493,
and then it was recertified by the Supreme Court in 1823,
This papal bull justified European Christians to legally take land
in the new world from anyone who was
non-Christian which meant not white and European.
It set the course and tone and understanding that we are still on
in many ways today.

But even though it’s been around since the beginning,
it is still obviously against the ideals of this country.

Somehow through their own prejudices
and contrary to the environment they were born and raised into,
the founding fathers had the wisdom to say that
 “All people are created equal and are endowed
by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”

We know now, that the ideals of this country not be realized easily.
Every time it seems like we’re closer to it, we get pulled back.
Even after 200 years this will obviously
take a lot of hard work and changed hearts to make it a reality.
But like I said, maybe that is our job in this country.

And white supremacy is not only against the ideals of this country.
White supremacy is obviously against the ideals
of Christianity as well.
Jesus has set us on a trajectory with his ministry,

He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter,
He opened his arms to all people on that cross, because
God so loved the whole world.
In Christ there is no Jew or Greek,
no slave or free, no male or female.

But we have always known that the ideals of Christianity
will take time. Even after 2000 years, it will take more time
and more effort and more changed hearts for God
to work this out in us.
But maybe this is our job as Christians.

But if Jesus can change his mind and ways, we can too.
And I think we can do this in real ways right now
and you can do it without leaving your home.
I would like everyone to work on this with me this week.

In an effort to make the ideals of this country
and Christianity a reality, I ask everyone here to confront
your own racism in your heart.

Every day, notice one thing one notion, one prejudice, one idea
that the white, Christian, European way is better or preferable,
or more reliable. Catch one discouraging impulse that
you have against someone of another race or religion
 and confront it.  And ask God to change it in you.
Make it a personal devotion in your life.

And if you think you have none, look harder.
We all have those thoughts, we are products of our
society and our society has been teaching us this for centuries.
Jesus was shaped by his upbringing and environment,
 we aren’t better or more immune to it than Jesus.

Jesus wants us to think and talk about racism today.
It is our job as Americans and as Christians.
Take your preconceived notion, recognize it,
let yourself be changed. Be like Jesus.

With the Canaanite woman, Jesus was vulnerable.
Jesus was open to God’s call and the movement of the Spirit,
and that is a greater Christ-like example to us
than having the right answer from the beginning.
The greatest testament of this story is that
one woman’s cries of protest,
when met by Christ’s compassion and vulnerability
can change the whole history of the world.

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