Thought for the Week - 16th August 2020 by Mark Ellis

(22)   16th August                Matthew 15:21-28              The Faith of the Canaanite Woman

 

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us”

Psalm 67:1

Hello from Mark, the Reader at St Peter’s Carlton Colville and St Andrew’s Mutford, and welcome to my ‘Thought for the week’.  We have been so grateful for Peter’s service to all our churches during our vacancies and no more so than during this Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ of the churches. As we can see above this is the 22nd ‘Thought for the week’, the best part of half a year!  With churches now re-opening, Peter and I are again ‘swapping’ pulpits and I will be at St Benedict’s every 3rd Sunday.

The two readings set for today are Psalm 67 and Matthew 15:21-28.  We’ll turn to looking into the Matthew reading later. 

But first, before we can hope to fully hear God’s voice, let us ask for forgiveness from God.

Let us pray:

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin.  Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now let’s spend a minute reading Psalm 67 together:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

 

As I started to read this, I found verse 1 very familiar but couldn’t quite place it and then it came to me – it’s the words used in the UK Blessing, recorded at the beginning of lockdown.  I hope you are familiar with it.  As part of my training for Reader we had a wonderful module studying the Psalms, often noting their pattern.  In this case v1 is echoed by v7, v3 is repeated by v 5, suggesting that v 4 is perhaps the top of the hill – in that verse the nations are mentioned twice.  A Psalm then not just for the Jewish people of David’s day. 

Do you also see how many times earth, land, nations and peoples are mentioned?  This then is a global prayer (not just a UK one, not just a Jewish one).  We need to remember this when we start to look at our Matthew reading.

With God’s blessing on the earth, the land, the nations and the peoples, let’s sing and affirm that our hope through this crisis, and our hope for the future is indeed founded on our faith, on our Lord, on our GOD.

 

Hymn: All My Hope on God is Founded

All my hope on God is founded,
all my trust he shall renew;
he, my guide through changing order,
only good and only true:
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.

 

Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
all that human toil can fashion,
tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

 

Day by day our mighty giver
grants to us his gifts of love;
in his will our souls find pleasure,
leading to our home above:
love shall stand at his hand,
joy shall wait for his command.

 

Still from Earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done;
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son:
hear Christ’s call, one and all –
we who follow shall not fall.

 

Matthew 15: 21-28

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Two places beginning with L have appeared more frequently in our news these last weeks and days – Lebanon and Leicester.  And, of course, there is also our Lowestoft.  Now what could I possibly find that connects these places with today’s Psalm and Gospel readings I hear you ask.  Well….

Leicester is one of the most diverse places in the UK. Over 50 per cent of the population identify from a faith background (‘nations’) other than Christianity.  And of those that do, many come from across the globe (world, earth). Many of those are also displaced persons, refugees from other countries.  Sometimes they are feared by others, finding them somehow frightening.  How opposite that must really be in some cases.  This Gospel reading this morning reminds us that, like the poor, outsiders are part of our story too.  How should we react?  As some political activist reflected this week – how can seeking asylum (defined as refuge, haven, sanctuary, shelter, protection) become illegal in a Christian society? How should we react?

This little story told by Matthew is also told by Mark.  Mark tends to be more ‘eye-witness’ in his gospel writing whilst Matthew seeks for a Jewish meaning.  Both writers though place it alongside a discourse on purity and therefore about true belonging – very Matthean!  This is a story about a woman (yes, a woman) who approaches Jesus directly.  (Ouch – just not done in that society – there are protocols and purity to consider!)  Jesus is a Jewish Rabbi, she is a woman!  This is indeed a meeting fraught with purity taboos.  The story is set in Tyre and Sidon, north of Galilee.  That’s in modern day Lebanon.  No seriously, it is – Jesus ministry doesn’t just happen in safe areas, in pure areas, he too steps out of the boat!  Such places are beyond Jewish territory, they are diverse being centres of trade and travel.  The woman was a Canaanite.  She was a gentile, whose culture and faith was shaped by the land of her birth as a kind of ‘first nation’ inhabitant.

So this key encounter takes place between Jesus and a female, with a non-Jew and beyond Jesus routine territory.  Jesus is prepared to travel both physically and socially in order to meet.  As per last week’s Gospel reading, He steps out of the boat of safety and comfort into the chaos outside his norm, outside his world.  This woman might have been as every bit strange or frightening as some see refugees and asylum seekers in our culture.  Jews and Canaanites are living alongside each other, but it is Jesus who crosses over into their territory in order to have a real encounter with difference.

It may be that ‘even in Lowestoft’ we live alongside people from cultures and faiths different from our own, but do we ever decide to ‘cross over’, or do we wait for them to conform to our ideals?  How can we help our communities have real encounters that move us beyond what we read and hear from our media?  This passage this morning suggests real encounter with outsiders can be transformative.

A year or so ago, I took over a team at work, including Joe.  Joe is from India, well he’s actually from Kerala, which has a high (for India) Christian presence.  Only I didn’t know that till I found out that he was a Christian.  We can be so enwrapped in our own culture, our own views, we have no idea what others’, what outsiders’, beliefs are.  I’ve not expressed this too well but I hope you can understand where I am coming from!  Suffice to say that I have another ‘strong’ Christian, from a different culture, in my team at work that has been transformational both at work and in faith. And yes, he does challenge me to see things differently.  He is recently moving to a new house and asked me for a ‘House Blessing’.  I had never considered such a thing but in his culture it was common, expected, so I had to do some research, and find an Anglican service fit for lay ministry.  And then I reflected on what such a blessing would mean for each of our homes, how would we behave if we knew that God blessed our homes?

The woman uses two surprising phrases to address this rabbi. She recognises him as ‘Son of David’. So she spots his Jewish credentials (as already hinted – key to Matthew’s Gospel story), and can speak respectfully to him. (I wonder whether fellow Jews in Jesus time would have returned the respect – the disciples’ action suggests not!)  This affirms Jesus’ ethnic and cultural identity. This is perhaps often the case, that those outsiders we encounter are often more polite to us than we to them (is that the power of the media on us, perhaps?). Second, she uses the word ‘Lord’. This is also translated as ‘Messiah’. Sharp gasps then – a gentile who recognises the Son of David, the Lord, the Messiah.  Understanding more than the so-called ‘disciples’, she recognises Jesus as Lord.  She asks him to make a difference in her child’s life.  She recognises that a promised future is becoming present through this encounter.  This is a future that no longer is configured by the unruly forces summed up by the word ‘demon’.

This woman is ‘ahead of the game’.  Only when Jesus faces death in Jerusalem do we see the full impact of his coming and the sheer extent of his realm (re: Psalm 67).  The early Christians will begin to explore this as the mission extends to into Gentile territory.  But here this woman already recongises the answer to which the Council of Jerusalem with attend decades later – ALL are welcome through faith.

We meet people on a journey of faith with complex sets of identities.  Joe, and many Christian Indians, worship our living God, slightly differently to us westerners.  But from Joe, I am enriched in my experience of the risen Christ through his experience. I encounter Christ through his culture.  Sometimes this also occurs not through people of the same faith but of a different culture and faith, where we can see Jesus differently. This encounter, then, invites us to be attentive to the people we meet and to be prepared to have our categories about faith challenged by their witness.

Let’s go back to some of the exact words in that reading though.  Some find the way Jesus acts to be very shocking – initially ‘Jesus did not answer a word’.  There is also no getting out of the fact that he likens the woman to a dog that only gets the scraps.  The word used for dog though could also be ‘pet’ – a household pet, perhaps loved.  Nevertheless, it is still a dog.  Some people would like to airbrush this out – it hurts, doesn’t fit well.  Hard and awkward sayings in the New Testament make the likelihood of authenticity greater – Mark’s eye-witness account may have fed Matthew’s telling.  Why else would the early church have left it there, since it unsettles the picture of a ‘nice Jesus’, a Jesus who always does what is right straight away?  This woman, like so many, recognises that she does not yet fully belong; well done her though for quickly responding that even a scrap of Jesus is better than nothing.  She knows that dogs can eventually find a place within the household, even to be loved.

There is something within her rising up, which not only names her needs but which fires her up with a persistence until she gets answers.  Those refugees caught up in the UK Asylum system may well need that persistence as they are caught between a rock and an increasingly hard place.  They too are outsiders like her who will not be silenced by their demons of the past, or the ‘welcoming party’ of the future – the disciples ‘send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ challenges us as much as Jesus’ initial silence, after all are we not called to be disciples?  (I wonder if that hurts you reading it as much as it hurts me writing this now?)

The church is invited like Jesus to engage in unfamiliar territory (the chaos of last week’s waters, rather than sheltering in the comfort of the boat perhaps?), with unfamiliar people.  We are asked to notice who is an insider and who is an outsider.  We are asked to really trust that God’s kingdom does extend far beyond our categories, beyond our own ‘white cliffs of Dover’.  We are invited to engage in persistent, truthful, yet even bluntly honest conversations.  Despite the discomfort of being challenged, such encounters still reveal faith, persistence, and ultimately the breaking in of the Kingdom of Heaven, as was Matthew’s wish.

(Adapted and expanded from a sermon by David Monteith, The Canterbury Preacher’s Companion 2020)

The Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity:

Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, give us patience and courage never to lose hope, but always to bring our prayers before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A Prayer of the people of Lebanon:

Merciful God, be with the people of Lebanon today.  Comfort all who are distressed and anxious, protect the emergency services, restore the injured to health, and abide with all who mourn, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A Prayer for Healing:

Loving God, Source of all healing and comfort, fill us with your grace that the sick may be made whole, that those who care for us may be strengthened, that the anxious may be calmed, and those most vulnerable may be protected. In the power of the Spirit and in the faith of Jesus Christ our LordAmen.

 

A Prayer for our Parishes:

Lord God, help us all to use this time of change within your churches to re-examine our faith in you, our service to you and our worship of you. Be with the congregations of St Peter’s Carlton Colville and St Andrew’s Mutford as they go forward in their selection of a Priest-in-charge to be their new shepherd, and for that new Minister. We pray also for the congregations at St Benedict’s and St Peter’s in Gunton, St Bartholomew’s Corton and St Margaret’s Hopton as they go forward together as a new enlarged benefice.  Bless each officer and Minister that supports them during this time of vacancy and bless them with a Minister that will take this benefice further in its life in due course.  In the name of Jesus, our Christ.  Amen.

Let us join together in the Lord’s Prayer, in whatever version or language is best for you today.

 

Hymn: O Jesus I have promised

O Jesus, I have promised
  To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
  My Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle
  If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
  If Thou wilt be my Guide.

 

O Jesus, Thou hast promised
  To all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory
  There shall Thy servant be;
And Jesus, I have promised
  To serve Thee to the end;
Oh, give me grace to follow,
  My Master and my Friend.

Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
  And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
  Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
  Uphold me to the end;
And then to rest receive me,
  My Saviour and my Friend.

 

 

May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you and may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always.  Amen

Let Us Bless the God: Thanks be to God.


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