Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus says some pretty hard stuff, but this is some of the hardest to me. It’s almost shocking that it’s in the Bible, but let’s take it seriously on that account at least. This woman follows Jesus, begs for his mercy, and he turns away. When pressed, he calls her a really nasty name. What kind of Christ is this? There are plenty of ways to explain it – that he was testing her faith, or joking, or just having a bad day – but how do we say that to this woman? The Son of David snubs her?! I think we can come to Jesus’ defense too fast, to try to talk him into being good, and this usually comes at the expense of those who continue to suffer. We make it her fault, make her prove something, make her acknowledge that she’s really a dog after all (and we don’t mean puppy). I’d say what that is, but we’re in church here. Let’s just say that Jesus wrongs her.

But I don’t mean to rant about Jesus. I mean to lament over him. The difference is that in a lament, I acknowledge that this is my wrong too. I (and we) have to own “our” Christ’s behavior. We own it because it’s ours. We project our brightest light and our deepest darkness onto our leaders, saviors, and gods. Jesus is us. Maybe it’s because he had a bad day, maybe it was to make point, or maybe it’s just because this is what often happens to leaders, but Jesus becomes his own disciples here. We know the Jesus who gathers all people into God’s love, but that Jesus disappears, and for some reason, this rejecting Jesus arrives. When that happens, we have to consider that what we see isn’t Jesus at all – it’s our own reflection, dressed up like someone else.

So let’s consider whom else we see as we hear this story. We should see the faces of those who have lived this story with us: those we’ve shut out and those who have shut us out. Whom have we told that they’re not good enough to receive God’s favor? When have we been told the same thing? (Those times will be connected, incidentally. Our inability to bless others usually has to do with not knowing God’s blessing for ourselves.) I see people named Janelle, Sarah, Nick, Lauren, and Steven. Your people are like them, just with different names. We might see 30,000 children dead in the Somali famine. Many people who lost homes in the recent months of flooding. Some of the millions who fight to secure our trade and resources. We might also see people we may only grudgingly serve at the Salvation Army. People who vote in ways that we don’t approve of. People who don’t fit our vision of this congregation.

I mean this as a lament. I understand this tendency because it’s mine too. I know we only have so much attention, energy, time, and money, and I’m responsible for making people jump through some of our hoops before I’ll help them. I feel the pressures of propriety, asking myself what people will say if I’m too forward about caring for this person or advocating for that principle. I know there are some people we just plain dislike, who are not fun to be with. And I understand how this confrontation escalates: when desperate people refuse to be silenced, we often hear them as abrasive and snap back at them.

But don’t let me justify it. As much as I understand it, this is all still drawing the circle of love too small – that’s how Jonathan Edwards described sin (and he meant it). I’m not sure I’ve yet regretted extending a kindness, even when it was otherwise a bad idea – and I’m grateful that this congregation makes kindness our policy (not all do). But ultimately, this isn’t about kindness. I won’t tell us to be nice, because we already know to be nice, “Minnesota nice” or otherwise. Our offense at Jesus’ behavior, and our lament over our own, shows that we already know kindness. This story is really about our reaction to it.

The story of Jesus snubbing this woman reveals how deeply we already know that God’s grace belongs even to those we tend to reject. This story is about that grace. It’s a love even greater than Jesus’ actions, let alone ours. A grace greater than words in Bible. A love greater than anything at all. It’s about this woman’s dogged pursuit of God, but it’s ultimately about the God who has enough to bless her without denying grace to anyone else. And we’re invited to pursue that God too, to trust the reality of God’s overflowing love, to know that there’s enough grace even for us. And then we’re invited to boldly offer that grace to everyone in our reach.

So may it be. Amen.

 

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