Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 15:21-28; Isaiah 56:1-8
St. Jacob’s (Spaders), Trinity; August 20, 2017
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
There are a number of sayings that have much to say for them. A very popular one that is so is “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”. I learned that in Nebraska. A good fence keeps another person’s livestock from eating another person’s corn or beans. Currently we have expanded the concept with electronic fences to keep pets in our yards and through security systems to protect our lives and goods.
There were times when Jesus needed and tried to put a fence around himself by finding a lonely place to pray or as in this morning’s gospel leaving the territory he was most well known. This morning finds him away from Galilee, and not because he has gone south to Judea and Jerusalem. Rather he has gone northeast into the Roman Province of Syria along the coast to Tyre and Sidon, some 50 miles northwest of Capernaum on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The overall message of the Old Testament and Gospel lessons moves in the opposite direction. They speak of breadth of God’s inclusion, captured by the living the adage, “a stranger is a friend I haven’t met.”
For God’s people of his time Isaiah begins the chapter reasonably. “Thus says the Lord: maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing evil.” It is hard to argue this does not make sense. If one sees oneself as doing their best to walk righteously before God, these are very encouraging words. So far so good.
Then the prophet hints he is about to drop a bomb on our limits of who is not only God’s awareness but who is included in God’s acceptance. “Don’t let the immigrant who has joined with the Lord say, “The Lord will exclude me from the people. And don’t let the eunuch say “I’m just a dry tree.”
As a matter of fact the immigrants who have served and followed God’s way will be brought to God’s holy mountain and their worship will be accepted. More shockingly the eunuch’s who were cast aside in the law given Moses in Leviticus and summarized in Deuteronomy who keep God’s laws will be given a ‘monument and name better than sons and daughters. They will be given a place that will not be removed.
These words come as a shock. Isaiah concludes this section with no retreat language. “My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples, says the Lord who gathers Israel’s outcasts. I will gather still others to those I have already gathered.” The operative word is ALL.
Jesus confirms the breadth of God’s loving embrace in an encounter with a woman in a non-Jewish land.
While in the regions of Tyre and Sidon Jesus discovers his reputation still precedes him. A Syro-Phoenician woman comes to him with a mother’s plea for his help to cure her demon possessed daughter.
Initially, uncharacteristically Jesus is silent. His disciples know what to do they urge him to send her away with a W.C. Fields like “Go away. You’re bothering me.” Jesus does not do that. He explains that his mission is to the people he was born into.
In response, she humbles herself by kneeling and continues pleading. Jesus senses something. In an allusion to dogs he throws her a bone. When saying, “It is not right to take the children’s food and toss it to their dogs,” Jesus makes an interesting word choice. He uses the word designating house or pet dogs, not the pejorative used for street curs and strays.
What do we do with our pets? As a child I confess I had been known to slip food from our table and feed our pet dogs. And even in households, that for pet’s health and children’s manners forbid such feeding, family dogs are not begrudged living by the motto of the comic strip dog Snoopy of Peanuts, “Anything that falls on the floor is legally mine.”
She picks up on this and cleverly notes that truth, “Your right, but even the little dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.” Jesus acknowledging her great faith and announces, “Your request is granted.” Within an hour her daughter is healed.
We see Jesus, traveling away from the demands and plots in his earthly homeland to be alone with his disciples to prepare them for things that are coming, step out of the comfort zone of his disciples and take time from his plan to respond to this unnamed woman, much as he had cured a Roman centurion’s servant who had come for help earlier.
The disciples in those two incidents witness God’s love extending to an agent of foreign occupation and to a foreign resident of a territory they were passing through. The disciples will be given the clearest awareness of how inclusive God is in the providing help and providing an invitation for salvation after the resurrection when Jesus commissions them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
In the news and public affairs opinion programming there is strong encouragement to confront and demonize the other as ‘those’ people. A couple of months ago I saw a news article. A late night host had President Trump on. There was “How could you?” complaints. The host replied “I did not mean to de-demonize him.” Demonizing was out in the open as the thing to do with those we disagree. God through Jesus and prophets like Isaiah move us to a course correction that reminds us the call is to serve God by encountering the other as ‘these’ people created by God and also met by God through Jesus who comes well before we can be seen as ‘worthy’ people. What a refreshing breeze to enjoy and follow is provided by our maker, redeemer, and strength this morning. Amen.