11th Sunday After Pentecost, August 16, 2020
– Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Matthew 15:10-28
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
Jesus most certainly knew that food improperly prepared could be harmful to one’s body and life but, as often if the case, Christ did not have a spin doctor to interpret his words in less offensive ways. So, he comes across as a heretic condemning the kosher laws of his people when, more accurately, he is prioritizing the spiritual motivation of the heart over the dietary rituals of the law. And so, he surmised “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth.” (Matthew 15:11)
Each of us, as people of God, will now and then encounter elements of our faith tradition commonly regarded as central to our religious identity and, in some cases, upheld as crucial to our salvation, that will compel us to question their validity.
As a church we have raised such questions pertaining to who should receive the sacrament of communion, or whether one’s sexual orientation or gender identity should affect that person’s membership within our congregation. In our decision to welcome all into the church and to the Lord’s Supper regardless of their life journey, sexual orientation or gender identity, we have, by so doing, also made a statement of faith that favors what we feel to be the spiritual priority of the heart over the literary and legal mandates of tradition. We have discerned that what constitutes our identity as children of God and followers of Christ is, in fact, a tradition that welcomes all who hunger for spiritual food.
Still, in many ways, Jesus was a product of his environment, both its assets and liabilities, and sometimes he seemed to contradict himself.
We’re well aware of the saying, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Well, following on the heels of his instruction to guard against unclean speech and behavior, he encounters a Canaanite woman that incites the worst sort of behavior from him. Jesus, according to Matthew, was of the mind that his gospel was geared for Jews alone. So, when this foreign woman pleaded for him to save the life of her daughter, he was indignant toward her. And his indignation was cheered on by his disciples as he told her it was not fit for him to take the bread meant for his people and throw it to dogs like her. (15:26)
And just when you think that such a devastating and humiliating blow of bigotry would have incapacitated the heart of this woman to go any further, it seems as though the heart of God stepped in and rekindled her tongue. “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (15:27)
It is the bold, defiant act of humility from this Canaanite woman that I believe humbled Jesus into the divine likeness God intended of him; a likeness that, in the words of the Prophet Samuel, looks not on outward appearances, but upon the heart. (1st Samuel 16:7)
Each of us, as people of God, will now and then encounter elements of our faith that will compel us to question their validity for our salvation. How you answer determines the heart of the matter. Where is the heart of your faith? Amen.