Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

The holy gospel according to Matthew. 
Glory to you, O Lord. 

[Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”] 

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. 

The gospel of the Lord. 
Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Int the verses just before our Gospel text, Jesus has gotten into it again with the scribes and Pharisees, this time about the need to do a ritual washing of hands before eating, which his disciples failed to do. They insinuate that he and the the disciples are unclean for not following their traditions. Jesus puts the scribes and Pharisees in their place and then tells the crowd, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

As per usual, Jesus’ disciples don’t quite follow along and ask him for an explanation. Jesus basically tells them that what goes into one’s mouth doesn’t make one unclean, because it just passes through the body. But what comes out of the mouth had its start in the heart the evil coming out of the heart is what makes one unclean. Then he gives a list of some of these evils: evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.

One could make the argument that the scribes and Pharisees were the ones who were unclean, if we judged them by what came out of their mouths, because it showed that their hearts were full of pride, prejudice, and a lust for power.

Ultimately, it is God who judges and we are warned not judge lest we be judged. However, this doesn’t mean we should ignore what comes out other’s mouths either. They just might be blind guides. 

I think this is especially true with election season looming large. To hear what comes out of the candidates mouths from both sides of the aisle makes me sad. Sad for the process, sad for our available choices and sad for our country. Out of one side of their mouths comes talk about morality and caring for the misfortunate and out of the other side comes false witness and slander. Blind guides hoping to lead the blind.

We need’t be careful that we don’t start to think that we’re any better. Just by talking about the candidates in this way I’m treading on bearing false witness and slander myself. Far too easily I’m willing to engage in gossip, at least the hearing of it. Far too easily my heart is willing to be a part of other evils that make me unclean. 

Praise be to God that we know a guide that isn’t blind, who is willing to lead us into the path of righteousness, who through his death on the cross has washed us clean of the filth coming out of our mouths and hearts.

And now for something completely different, as they used to say on the Monty Python Show. The second part of today’s Gospel is about a Canaanite  woman seeking help from Jesus for her daughter. 

For those of you who aren’t Old Testament scholars, the Canaanite people dated back to before the Patriarch Abraham. Theirs was the land that God promised Abraham and his descendants were warned not to inter-marry with them. After Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, Canaan was the land they conquered and made their own. In Jesus’ time, the Canaanites and Jews were not on the best of terms, to say the least.

Yet, here comes this Canaanite woman begging Jesus to help her daughter. Out of Jesus reaction to her request comes a great deal of theological debate. Did Jesus reply to her the way he did to use this as a teaching moment for his followers or was he actually a little racist and God used it as a teaching experience for Jesus? I’m not going to get into that, as I’m undecided, but it’s just a little something for you to think about.

So, anyway, this woman comes begging for help and at first, Jesus just ignores her. She persists and they engage in a little verbal sparring, which, in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus admits defeat. The woman’s faith, and theology, has won him over to see her point.

“The woman’s theology,” you might ask? Yes, her grasp of Jewish theology. First, after Jesus ignores her then tells her he has nothing to do for her,  she kneels at his feet. This may be what convinced him to engage her in conversation. Kneeling was considered a form of worship to the Jews. By kneeling, you were, at the very least, acknowledging someone else’s dominance over you. Then Jesus slurs her by suggesting she is no better than a dog who doesn’t deserve table food. This is where the woman responds with her theological zinger that Jesus couldn’t argue with. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Why couldn’t Jesus argue with that? Because it was common knowledge that God’s grace and love were overflowing, even from the Israelites to the Gentiles. Psalm 23 refers to an overflowing cup. In the Exodus story, God promises to give the people a “land overflowing with milk and honey. Many of the Mosaic laws were written to protect the “alien and stranger” in their midst.

She essentially says to him, “Yes, AND with God there’s always an overflow to the blessing.” Even if they had a prestigious place at the table, the hope of the people of Israel included the belief that God’s overflowing goodness would bless the other people of the world as well. Our woman knows her neighbor’s theology!

Jesus appears taken aback by this answer, seemingly beyond her ability as a foreign woman to grasp and praises her for her faith. Immediately, her daughter is healed.

In the first part of today’s Gospel, Jesus had just finished sparring verbally with the scribes and Pharisees, people how supposedly knew the law inside and out, and he won. In the second half he spars verbally with a  woman who by all likelihood had little to no understanding of the finer points of the law, and was of foreign descent no less, and he lost. 

How can this be? I think it goes back to what comes out of the mouth being a reflection of what’s in the heart. What came out of the scribes and Pharisees mouths reflected their less than pure hearts and Jesus was able to easily show the hypocrisy of their words and actions. In the woman’s case, what came out of her mouth also reflected what was in her heart, which was faith that Jesus was able to heal her daughter and that he was able to do so out of the overflowing abundance of his grace, even to her, a Canaanite dog.

What comes out of one’s mouth can show one’s uncleanliness, but what comes out of one’s mouth can also show one’s faith through which we are saved by the grace of God.

As we continue with today’s worship, let us consider the words coming from our mouths. May they reflect the faith we hold in our hearts in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and may our faith grow stronger through hearing the words of the faithful around us.

Amen, come Lord Jesus.