A sermon for Morning Prayer online from the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. The readings for Year A Proper 15 include the story of the Canaanite (or Syro-Phoenician) woman imploring Jesus for help for her child.
It strains credibility that Jesus, having fed the five thousand and healed the multitudes, who had travelled deep into the trans Jordan to heal the man of the Gadarenes and cast his demons into swine; that this Jesus, faced with the prospect of a mother’s grief would say, “I’ve got nothing for you.” (Matthew 15: 21-28)
Jesus knew better than anyone how much he had to give, and for how much of the world, and how many of God’s people, God’s children. It does not make sense for him to withhold healing from this woman’s child when he would not even decline to provide wine to a wedding.
Yet here we are, sitting like dogs beneath the table, catching at crumbs, trying to piece together enough sense to make a meal of.
Paul wrestled with the expansion of Christ’s mission to the Gentiles, even as he claimed that mission as his own. He knew that God’s grace is not like pie – that sharing it, like the loaves and the fishes, multiplies rather than reducing grace. And still he voiced those fears, “If God loves these people as much as mine, does that mean that God loves mine less?” (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)
No, the prophet answers: there is room for everyone on God’s mountain. (Isaiah 56:1,6-8) “In my Father’s house,” Jesus says elsewhere, “there are many dwelling places.” (John 14:2)
If, as some suggest, Jesus was playing a part for the sake of his disciples, to teach them a lesson about their own limitations and limited vision, to expand their hearts for compassion, then I would hope that the woman was in on the joke, that he whispered or winked to her, this poor mother brought to her knees by her daughter’s suffering. If so, she played her part well, especially given the circumstances.
If Jesus was trying to shock his disciples into beginning their anti-racism training, then he chose a risky tactic, playing up the stereotypes and the derogatory statements in order to knock them down. His disciples were often a little hard of understanding; it would be easy, instead, for us to perpetuate the error of calling women dogs, of dividing people into the deserving and undeserving of food, medicine, housing, grace, humanity; into those in network and those out of network; into the pure and the other.
If Jesus was putting on a scene in order to convict his disciples of their own exclusionary, xenophobic, racist, sexist, selfish attitudes towards the woman – “Make her go away!” they say. “Make her stop talking” – then we have yet fully to learn our lesson.
I hope you know by now that I will not, from this pulpit or computer screen, push one political party over another. Only God is good and only Christ is my saviour; all else are fellow workers on the road to justice and judgement. That said, there is a tendency still to make less room for women, to suggest that foreigners are greedy for crumbs, to pretend that there is not enough grace in America to go around.
As a woman and as an immigrant, I notice; as a white woman, and one of a privileged accent and background, it is easy enough for me to slide past most complaints, to become part of the problem.
Even for those who have been here generations, one way or another, or whose generations preceded the generation of a majority-white nation, the ways in which we talk about one another, the labels we use: “minority,” suggests a certain discount.
We have yet fully to learn the lesson that there is no minority section of God’s heart; that Creation swells and grace abounds and that the very details of difference that God seeded among us were designed to show us the beauty of a broad imagination, not to divide us but to invite us to embrace the infinite, the indescribable, the all-encompassing, the God.
Jesus has the capacity, the will, the grace of God to heal the woman’s daughter, to lift the woman from her knees. No one is left to crawl around for crumbs under his table; if they were, you might be sure that he would be right there with them. In what might be a bit of a backhanded rebuke to his disciples, “Woman, great is your faith!” he says, who last week admonished Peter, “Oh ye of little faith.”
“Woman, great is your faith!” he says, “Let it be done for you as you wish.”
May our faith be big enough to make room for difference. May our wish be not only for grace for ourselves and our own, but for the daughters and sons of Canaanite women, knowing that the love of God is not diminished nor spread thin, but multiplies like loaves and fishes when we join forces with the Creator, who made all things good. May our differences be the instruments not of our division but of healing, seeing the expansive grace of God refracted through them, more fully to reflect the glory of God.
It’s a commonplace that preachers are always preaching to ourselves. Starting tomorrow, I am working through a curriculum originally developed by the Bar Association of San Francisco, and now taken up by the American Bar Association, called the 21-DAY RACIAL EQUITY HABIT BUILDING CHALLENGE.
As the name suggests, the curriculum is a three-week course designed to “advance deeper understandings of the intersections of race, power, privilege, supremacy and oppression. … The goal of the Challenge is to assist each of us to become more aware, compassionate, constructive, engaged people in the quest for racial equity.”
“The Challenge invites participants to complete a syllabus of 21 short assignments (typically taking 15-30 minutes), over 21 consecutive days, that include readings, videos or podcasts. It has been intentionally crafted to focus on the Black American experience. The assignments seek to expose participants to perspectives on elements of Black history, identity and culture, and to the Black community’s experience of racism in America. Even this focus on Black Americans cannot possibly highlight all of the diversity of experiences and opinions within the Black community itself, much less substitute for learnings about any other community of color. This syllabus is but an introduction to what we hope will be a rewarding journey that extends far beyond the limits of this project.”
Find more information at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/labor_law/membership/equal_opportunity/