Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Every year, my parent’s get a calendar from the local farm co-op as both a Christmas and Thank You gift for being loyal members. As you can see, it’s filled with all kinds of farm pictures you might expect… tractors, farm animals, and amber waves of grain. Last winter, they received this calendar, and as one of my brother flipped through it, something about the August picture nagged at him. It seemed familiar, except not. Time after time, he, my mom, and my dad would gaze at the picture and wonder why it stuck out to them… until it hit them. It was a picture from OUR FARM. Not from the front or even from the side. It was a picture taken… from the back. Everything was there… the silos, the barn, the cows, the tractors…. The different angle just made it harder to see.
As F. F. Bruce wrote his book Hard Sayings of Jesus –– “His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but his sayings are often hard.” And the ones we heard from Jesus today are certainly no exception.
So much ink has been spilled over the centuries to explain, soften, or justify what Jesus does here, and I don’t think any of them are completely satisfying. Figuring out this text turns out to be rather elusive, like the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price. Perhaps what we need to look for is more like a crumb, or rather, a trail of crumbs.
For this Canaanite woman, the hope of just a crumb was enough for her. It was all she felt that she deserved. She was, after all, an outsider in nearly every possible way.
This woman was descended from these indigenous people, isolated to the backwater of her own country. She was the “wrong” race to be asking for Jesus help. She was likely a single mother in the wrong century, and her only child was the wrong gender, and if that wasn’t enough, her daughter was suffering from a very wrong-sounding illness. Even this woman’s whole approach to getting Jesus’ attention seems all wrong. Nevertheless, she persisted.
In fact, this woman could not have been more right about Jesus. She called him Lord and Son of David while the religious leaders of Jesus’ own people despised and rejected him. She knelt before him and engaged in spirited dialogue with him, while his own disciples seemed almost totally in the dark. She knew what she needed from Jesus, and was not afraid to do whatever she needed to get it, for the sake of her daughter. Even when facing a tired, frustrated, and over-booked savior. Nevertheless, she persisted.
This woman knew what it was like to barely scrape by on crumbs. She was used to having men ignore her, dismiss her, and shoo her away. But not this time. She was going to be heard by Jesus, no matter what it took. She was going to lay hold of the grace that Jesus has to offer, even if the people of her time thought she was no better than a dog. Nevertheless, she persisted.
One poem by Jan Richardson begins by imagining the woman saying these words to Jesus: “Don’t tell me no. I have seen you feed the thousands, seen miracles spill from your hands like water, like wine, seen you with… crowds pressed around you and not one soul turned away. Don’t start with me...”
She knew that in the end, he would not and could not go against his nature. She knew he would do the right thing – that he would “throw her a bone,” so to speak. And she was right. She called Jesus out, and Jesus listened to her, and I think that’s why he called her faith great.
I wonder if Jesus remembered her as he blessed the bread and broke it, and watched the crumbs from the broken pieces fall onto the table and roll to the floor. I wonder if he thought about her great faith, as he was breaking bread with people who would later betray, deny, and abandon him in the coming hours.
And apparently, even Jesus needed to take his own advice sometimes, to stop and listen to someone else preach to him. Even Jesus needed to be reminded to see people from a different perspective. This woman reminded Jesus of a different angle in God’s story – that even though God had chosen the Jewish people, that all throughout history God has never ignored the needs of the “stranger,” the foreigner, the immigrant among them. Stubborn women throughout the Old Testament have faithfully and persistently gained God’s ear, and wrestled a blessing in their own right. The stories from the margins, from the edges, from underneath are just as important as the stories of God’s chosen people.
While it is true that all lives matter to God, some lives are treated as mattering less than others. That is while throughout the Bible God has stood with and continues to stand with the oppressed and the downtrodden. While we say with our actions that certain lives don’t matter, Gods insists that they do. To God, oppressed lives matter. Canaanite lives matter. Jewish lives matter. And in our own time, LGBTQIA lives matter. Trans lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Differently abled lives matter. Chronically ill lives matter. Latino, Middle Easter, and Black lives matter.
I have the privileges of looking back into my family history. I have the privilege to know that my ancestors voluntarily left their homes in Bavaria and Saxony to immigrate to the United States, to settle on this farm that my family has owned for five generations – featured on the cover of the Co-op 2017 calendar. My past can be celebrated. I can go to German Festivals and eat German food and wear German things.
Imagine that you come from a people who could never know their own history. This group of people had ancestors that were kidnapped from their homes, hauled on a filthy ship for months at sea, only to be sold into slavery once they got to the United States. It is nearly impossible to tell from which country in Africa their ancestors came from – Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon? There is no way to know. But their past, it matters to God. Their present matters to God, and their future matters to God too. Just as much as all of ours lives matter to God.
The Canaanite woman knew that, while her voice and her experience did not matter to the people around her, they mattered to God, and she refused to leave Jesus alone until he listened to her.
The Canaanite woman would not wait patiently for salvation to be granted to her “in due time.” She instead persists in laying hold of what she knows to be true:
That there is enough Jesus to go around. There is enough room in the Kingdom of God for us to make room for the experiences of our neighbors, no matter how different their experiences may be. Their experiences matter. And when we have heard the stories of our neighbors and hear they have experienced injustice, we must do as Jesus has done – we act. We heal the injury where we can. We cast out the demon that have harmed others where we encounter them – the demons of hate and fear.
First, we listen. Then, we speak. The time is now. No more waiting. No more ignoring the truth or shooing it away. Justice will not wait until it’s “more convenient.” Truth will not be unseen.
Right now, though, we may only be able to see a glimpse of the vision of peace and justice that God has for the world. Right now, we only get a crumb, just a taste, really, of the final victory feast over sin, death, and the evil in this world. Right now, we are only getting sips of the freedom Jesus has in mind for all of his people.
But the crumbs and the tastes are enough – because we know there is plenty more where that came from. We know what Jesus can do with a little bit of bread and some persistent faith.
On his deathbed, Martin Luther said – We are all beggars. Much later, Sri Lanka pastor D. T. Niles continued his thought by saying - "We are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread." There is more than a crumb for all. There is enough. Amen.
|Rosa Parks was my kids sermon|