It Was For Us
August 16, 2020
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
At the beginning of the service cover the baptismal font with a black cloth
The Scripture we are looking at today is one of the most important teachings and learnings of Jesus for our time and place in history right now.
And, yes I did say, learning of Jesus. For in this passage it is very clear that Jesus learns something and as a result, our lives are changed forever. Literally.
Listen to the story from Matthew chapter 15
Jesus departed for the district of Tyre and Sidon. It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that area came and cried out to Jesus, “Heir to the House of David, have pity on me! My daughter is horribly demon possessed.” Jesus gave her no word of response. The disciples came up and repeatedly said to him, “Please get rid of her! She keeps calling after us.” Finally Jesus turned to the woman and said, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”
She then prostrated herself before him with the plea, “Help me, Rabbi!” He answered, “But it isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” “True, Rabbi,” she replied, “but even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.” Jesus then said in reply, “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.” At that very moment her daughter was healed.
A Canaanite women means a person, a woman who is not Jewish. Who is so outside the ideal of Judaism that she would be considered a non-person.
In this day when we are awaking to the ideas that certain people are given more worth by our society than others, we are reminded by this passage that this acceptance that some people are less worthy than others is not a new thing.
From the very beginning of civilization, people have been separated into the worthy and the not worthy.
Jesus was only reflecting the thinking of his times.
Canaanites were not God’s people. They were not worthy of note. They were not to be honored.
Jesus was only reflecting the thinking of his times.
Even Jesus was entrapped by this cultural norm.
So if we try to say we are not prejudiced or we don’t see color or other nonsense, this story reminds us that Jesus, who was present at the creation of the human race, can be influenced by cultural norms.
Do not think that you or I can be immune to such faulty thinking.
It is so ingrained in us, that even God’s spirit cannot break through unless we are carefully listening and responding to those who are calling us out.
Jesus, had to be called out, don’t think we don’t have to be, too.
This is why anti-racism is such important work right now. And it is so very accessible right now. There are on line podcasts, courses, discussions, tv programs. I sent you links to some a few weeks ago. I am listening to one right now called Seeing White. It is helping me understand why, even Jesus, gets caught up in this evil system that pits one group of people against another. That gives power to one group of people OVER another group. For that is the real issue, power. Who can give power to another person. Who can grant another person personhood. Full and complete.
You see the Canaanite woman wasn’t asking Jesus to be simply kind or understanding to her daughter, she was asking that he heal her daughter, that she and her daughter have equal access to God’s power of healing.
And at first Jesus says, No.
No, this power is not for you. You do not deserve it.
I cannot imagine what is going through Jesus mind at the time. But I think it might have been exactly what goes through our minds when we try to hold onto power.
Because we have been taught and conditioned by our culture to believe that power can’t be shared equally.
Or comes at a cost and we have to conserve it.
And so often that is exactly what does happen. We hope that sharing power could be more like sharing cookies, knowing that there is always enough for everyone, and that when they run out someone will make or buy more.
But in our world, power corrupts…and people hoard power. And people abuse others with power.
This is what has caused human suffering since the beginning of time.
I truly believe through all my study of scripture and human history, that every sin in the bible is a sin of wielding power over another human being. EVERY SIN. This is the sin God hates. This is the attitude God warns us against. If we are willing to share or even give up our power, then we begin to live in the kindom of heaven.
When the Canaanite women confronts Jesus she at that moment has more faith than Jesus. More faith that the healing power, the loving power, the gracious power of God is limitless. And is for her!
I think this is one of the most amazing things about negro spirituals. That people who were so oppressed and so dehumanized could still believe that God’s power was their power. That they were still fully human and resting in God’s grace. Swing Low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home, to the arms of God…While others told them they were unworthy, they knew God counted them worthy. Worthy of God’s eternal love and grace.
Through the Canaanite woman, Jesus learns that God’s healing power, God’s loving power, God’s grace is not like cookies that have to be hoarded or protected. There is always enough for everyone.
And he says to her: Your faith. Your great faith. Not my power, not my faith. But Your faith, dear daughter of God, your faith has healed your daughter.
Today I have covered the baptismal font with a black cloth to symbolize what this story could have meant to us. This could have been what the baptismal font looked like for us: non Jewish people. Had Jesus not recognized the faith of the Canaanite woman.
Had Jesus lived into his culture
Had Jesus been unwilling to see the harmful system that oppressed this woman and her kin.
Had Jesus been unwilling to see, in our present day vernacular, that Canaanite Lives Matter to God.
If Jesus had not learned this, had not opened his heart up to change, this baptismal font would not be open to us.
We would not be part of the tribe of Jesus. We would not be called Christians.
(remove the cloth)
But it is, because Jesus’ spirit was so in tune with God’s spirit he was able to break free from the system that called others less than. He was able to bring to this woman and to us, the healing power of the kindom of God.
I don’t know where you are at right now, if you need to be freed from the concern that you are not worthy of this grace. Or if you need to be freed from the system that oppresses others. Probably both. Probably both.
My prayer for all us is that we may be so in tune with God’s spirit that we break free of the system that oppresses us and others; that God’s kindom can come on earth as it is in heaven.