Below is a sermon excerpt based on the story of a Canaanite Woman encountering Jesus...
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.
We human beings draw circles.
Circle of Trust. Circles of Friends.
We can imagine that Jesus was the same way. Jesus had a circle of trust; a select group of friends.
They all were Jewish. They all were from Galilee.
When it was Passover, they knew what to do. When other holidays and customs came, they honored them the same way.
They too had similar life experiences. They shared the same faith story.
Our Gospel this morning presents us with a powerful story of circles colliding… Our Gospel is a story of what happens when circles collide… and then God’s grace enters in.
In today’s Gospel story, we find Jesus and his friends traveling way up North. It’s helpful (as it often is), to remind ourselves where this passage is set within the rest of the story. We are here at Matthew, chapter 15. Right in the middle of the Matthew’s Gospel.
At this point, Jesus was gaining popularity. He’d been going place to place. Its as though he was picking up speed… covering more ground. Jesus was going from place to place. As he went, he sharing the story of God’s salvation. Jesus helped people open their eyes to consider the wideness of God’s mercy. Jesus went about healing people and casting out demons.
This Good News was news that could not be kept hidden. Word was spreading like wildfire!
Because the news was spreading far and wide, seemingly random people, even as far north as Tyre and Sidon were talking about this Jesus. Jesus: A Jewish Man from Galilee was doing things and saying things that were breaking open ancient promises in new ways.
It was all moving fast! Until. A particularly unlikely sheep approached Jesus. This woman was a Canannite. She and Jesus were as different as they could be.
Her people and Jesus’s people? They were simply not the same people.
Their religious heritage was different. Their traditions were different. Their world worldview was different. She had a child—was a parent. Jesus did not. They were from different worlds!
Nonetheless, the woman had been listening. She seemed to know about Jesus.
Perhaps people had told her about the miracles of abundance Jesus was performing… Perhaps she had heard how Jesus took just a little fish and bread and fed 5,000! (with leftovers)
Perhaps she had what Jesus had been teaching to the crowds…. Like how Jesus had taught that what defiles a person is what comes out of the heart that defiles…
Perhaps this woman (who likely was seen as unclean and ostracized due to the illness of her daughter) had come to believe there could be HOPE; hope for her and hope for her daughter… Maybe, just maybe, with Jesus, there was enough mercy to go around…
The woman mustered the courage to approach Jesus.
But instead of responding, immediately, with compassion (as we expect) Jesus seems to sort of give her the silent treatment!
As the woman begged Jesus for mercy for the sake of her tormented daughter, Jesus ignored her. He remained silent in the face of her pleas.
(I can’t help but wonder… while we are shocked by Jesus’ response… I wonder… is this exactly what she had come to expect? The world can be so cruel… especially for those who are drawn out of the circle)
The brave, relentless woman refused to be ignored. She pleads her case once more. This time, Jesus insulted her, and explained that his task wasn’t to reach everybody, but only to reach the lost sheep of Israel.
The woman spoke up. Accepting Jesus’ language for her, she then turned it-
“Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
The woman was clever. She was inspired. In her clever retort to Jesus’ insult, it’s as though she found a way to say: “See me!”
‘See me, Jesus!’…‘I don’t need everything, but I do have needs. See me as a person, not as a foreigner. See me as a person, not as a burden.’…‘See me for what I am: a person who believes in you.’
Jesus healed her daughter, saying simply: “Your faith has made you well”.
Interestingly, no one left that encounter unchanged.
The woman experienced a miraculous healing for her daughter. But she was not the only one who was blessed. I can’t think of any other way to put this except that Jesus was taught something here in the 15th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that was crucial for him to learn.
Jesus’ circle started out small… But Jesus’ circle grew wider. Jesus was a person with a family and a culture just as we all have.
And yet, the abundant mercy, and grace, and compassion of God at work in him and through him could not be limited…
Jesus was destined to live, and to die, and to rise again for ALL of us; That all the ends of the earth might see the glory of God.
Just as the bread God blessed and broke went on to feed over 5,000 people WITH LEFTOVERS, God’s abundant mercy, and grace, and compassion could fill up the circle and overflow into the whole earth!
Jesus may have started out only with the circle of Israel in his mind, but the plan for Jesus’ life and ministry and ultimate destiny was a plan that constantly caused circles to collide and grace to enter in-
We who have been baptized into the name of the resurrected Christ and have been set on fire by God’s Holy Spirit know the truth. Even though we too are often blind and often have trouble seeing beyond our small circles of similarity, we know that with God, there IS enough to go around.
Our circles of trust and friendship can be instruments of God’s grace. But they are not an end within themselves.
Our circles of trust and friendship: whether they are our household, our families, our church families, our schools, our places of work are circles that God intends to infuse with an abundance of God’s grace that is, in fact, SO abundant that it can pour out and into the world around us!
May we follow in the way of Jesus. When our circles collide, may we respond to our neighbors with curiosity and grace, moving beyond judgement and into the peace our God desires for us.
Thanks be to God. The Holy Spirit of the resurrected Lord dwells among us and nudges us to grow in love.