Okay. I’m just going to say it. Jesus was wrong to make the Canaanite woman plead with him. Fortunately, he came to a new understanding after listening to her and was able to correct his mistake before it was too late. When the woman was crying out to him, Jesus ignored her until his disciples asked him to send her away because she was annoying and undeserving. Then Jesus basically told her that she wasn’t deserving of his attention because she was not an Israelite. She begged for his help. He declined. She pointed out that even dogs got the crumbs that fell from the table. Then Jesus healed her daughter and praised her faith. Jesus reacted to the woman as he had been taught. She persisted and was able to get him to see her as a human being, not just as a Canaanite woman. We could benefit from paying more close attention to this story.
Sometimes I feel like all I say is, “Come on, Church, we can do better than this.” And, yet, I feel compelled to keep saying it. We can do better because Jesus did better. People shouldn’t have to come begging us for help or healing. No one should have to persuade the church that they are worthy of God’s love. No one should have to convince us that they are worth saving. I cannot help but wonder how many lives have been lost because we as the church were not listening and failed to recognize the human being in need of help.
Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to always be welcomed in a church community. Maybe you’ve never been told that you are an abomination, an unrepentant sinner, unwelcome, unworthy, or undeserving. Maybe you’ve never been excluded from the life of the church because of your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, your marital status, mental illness, physical disability, or some other aspect of who you are. If that’s the case, then you know how Jesus and his disciples felt when the outsider wanted just a taste of what they had. What you don’t know is the desperation that drove the Canaanite woman to literally beg at Jesus’ feet.
Imagine what she must have been feeling. Her child was dying. She had heard about Jesus the healer. She knew she, as a Canaanite woman, had no business approaching a Jewish rabbi. She did it, though. And she persisted until Jesus saw her, heard her, and helped her. I wonder who is kneeling at our feet, begging for healing, hope, and wholeness that we are choosing not to see, hear, or help because of what we have been taught. And those teachings that say that anyone is undeserving of God’s love are not from Jesus. He learned something in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, and so should we.
My friends, the church has the antidote for much of what ails society today. While we cannot manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19, we can demonstrate what love looks like during a pandemic. We cannot meet in person without following all the appropriate guidelines. We can support the idea that these days, love wears a mask. More than that, though, as society becomes increasingly apathetic or hopeless, we can freely share the love we have in our communities. We can share resources ensure people are seen, heard, welcomed, and find a place of belonging.
We have been taught how to love our neighbors as ourselves. While it may not be easy when our society maintains the idea that its everyone for themselves, we know that every human being is worthy of God’s love. No one should have to beg for it. What would radical inclusion look like in our congregations? It’s more than the “All are Welcome” on so many of our signs. We would have to mean that all are welcome, even those who are treated like the Canaanites of Jesus’ day.
Perhaps we should take some time during pandemic to expand our welcome in ways that will last. Who have we excluded that we could work on including? Who has been begging for us to help them? Instead of focusing on what we cannot do during pandemic, let’s focus on what we can do. Let’s figure out how to be congregations that lead with love and grace, welcome and inclusion. We don’t have to keep making the same mistakes. Jesus didn’t. Let’s, you know, follow him. Crumbs that fall to the floor are fine for dogs. As far as people go, we to build a bigger table.
RCL – Year A – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2020
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28