Revised Common Lectionary reflection for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, Year A
August 20, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Alternate: Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people practice radical welcome, recognizing that all are created in God’s image, are dearly beloved, and belong at Christ’s table.
Key Scripture: 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.” Matthew 15: 25-27
I’m thinking about the crumb of bread my bishop placed into my cupped hands during the Eucharist at our recent staff retreat. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” he said. The body of Christ broken for me? Yes, for me! I received crumbs from the Master’s table–bread and wine, body and blood. It didn’t take much. There was no three-course sit-down dinner. A morsel and sip are enough, yes more than enough, at Jesus’ table.
We need this “crumby” gospel, especially on days when the world seems especially crummy and when our division and brokenness seem especially prominent. We need this taste of Jesus to whet our appetite for more and to sustain us and remind us again and again of what really matters. Above all, we need Jesus’ affirmation that we belong, all of us. We need to come to the table and kneel at Jesus’ feet to lay down our sorrow, pain, baggage, and badness. Yes, even the little whelps and aged curs get something from the master. No one is excluded.
So why do Jesus’ disciples get all lathered up over the Canaanite woman? You’d think by now they would have realized that Jesus is not out to impress the religious elite or to maintain the status quo. In fact, in the optional portion of this week’s gospel lesson (verses 10-20) he’s just delivered a graphic object lesson about the source of human filth and rottenness. Ouch! Oh, what dark hearts we hide beneath the clothes of respectability and righteousness. Jesus lists some of the dark and dirty things: evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. You get the idea. Being rendered “unclean” and outside of God’s love is not about whether one fails to keep nit-picky rules, abandons hollow traditions, and refuses to get hung-up on religious adiaphora.
I wonder how this encounter in the gospel lesson really went down. We have the words on the page, but we don’t have the tone of voice, the looks, the entire scene before us. When the woman appeals to Jesus he hesitates to answer her. What hangs in that silence? The disciples are evidently quick to fill it by urging that Jesus send this inconvenient truth of an outsider away. His next words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” must have sounded mighty fine to the annoyed and embarrassed disciples. Perhaps in those words there was a lesson for them that they overlooked. After all, they were quite prone to overlooking both the obvious and the obscure.
Yet even in the midst of this rather crummy situation, the woman will not be deterred from holding out her hand for a crumb from Jesus. She instinctively knows she belongs at the table. That is great faith, my friends. And, this too, is great stewardship. The outsider woman gets it. She understands that you don’t hoard grace and that you aren’t stingy with love and healing. A crumb from Jesus makes all the difference in the world.
Chances are that this week folks in your faith community will be reeling and/or numb from national and world events. Add to that the usual list of prayer needs and human brokenness and pain. So hand out this crumby gospel, these crumbs of abundant love, grace, and salvation, and don’t be stingy. Believe that Jesus is still about the business of working miracles, changing lives, and ushering in the reconciliation of this world. Come to the table, every last ragtag and gimpy one. Hold out your hands for these precious crumbs and this very good news.
But don’t stop there! Once you’ve been fed with Christ and strengthened for service, go out into the world and do something to welcome others to the table with equity and radical hospitality. We are not complete as the Body of Christ until all are gathered in.
Why not sing the hymn “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen (GIA Publications)? Here’s a video version if you’re not familiar with it. It’s an excellent hymn to remind us that God gathers all of us in–no one is excluded.
If your congregation has never included a peace candle in its worship practices, consider starting that practice now. Click here to read more about the origin of this practice. Including a peace candle in your guest welcome bags with a card explaining the history could also be a welcome and timely addition.
Consider using the Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8), giving particular attention to verses 7-8 about God’s house being a house of prayer for all people. Invite youth to consider how we do that today – or whether we really do. What would it mean for a church to be a house for all people. You might explore some congregations that are attempting to do this. I would lift up House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber initially felt called to minister to a certain segment of Denver’s population, but God had other ideas, and broadened her vision for ministry to include those whom she considered to be unlikely (unwelcome, really) members of the HFASS community.
Show children a very large size candy bar and a small Hershey’s kiss or Tootsie Roll. Ask the children if they’d rather have the whole candy bar of the small piece of candy. Most children will readily opt for the big bar. Tell them the simplified story of the foreign woman coming to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. She is willing to risk not only being an outsider and a woman but also a party crasher. What really gets her the inside track with Jesus is that she’s willing to take the crumbs, just like the dogs who eat off the floor, she’s willing to take the small leftover piece of healing for her child. She knows it’s not the quantity but just the tiniest morsel of Jesus’ healing that will help her daughter. So while most people want the big candy bar and a proper place at the table, with Jesus all we really need is a small bit of grace like one of these Hershey’s Kisses. This one bite of chocolate is every bit as sweet as the big bar, and it is enough. A little bit of Jesus (a wafer or crumb of bread) goes a long way. Finish with a simple prayer and be sure to give every child a small piece of candy.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
How can be faithful and good stewards of God’s amazing love in a world that seems so filled with hatred and division? As the church we are called to walk a different path and practice a countercultural way of life that is inclusive and that seeks to see that all of our neighbors are treated with justice, equity, and dignity. We are called to speak out against systemic structures of racism, poverty, and injustice and to act to repair the breach.
Stewardship at Home
Spend some time this week talking about the brokenness in our world and in our communities. Identify one way you can take positive action to combat hatred and racism. Pray for the strength, wisdom, and courage to do more. Learn as much as you can. None of us is really free until all are free. A few resources you may wish to explore include: Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Women, United Church of Christ, and the New England Year Meeting of Friends. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Photos: Simon James, Diocese of Southwest Florida, and ,Walters Art Museum used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!
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