Sisters and Brothers in Christ – Don’t you dare let Jesus off the hook! I don’t care if you’ve been part of a Christian community for a long, long time, or if this is your first time in a church ever today! Don’t you dare let Jesus off the hook.
This Syrophoenecian woman didn’t let Jesus off the hook…and it was her first encounter (so it’s never to early to say, “Hey Jesus, you can’t get away with that!”) Ask for what you want from God – make sure it’s the right thing to ask – and don’t let Jesus off the hook, casting you off like a dog. Don’t imagine yourself unworthy of Christ’s eyes, ears and healing hands.
Did you hear that in the Gospel? Jesus called that woman asking for help a dog! That’s bad now—sounds kind of like “bum” and name-calling is a big deal: we’ve got a president who’s got a quick derogatory name for everyone, we’ve got a Social Statement that we just started studying TODAY on Women and Justice, timely right? Name-calling is a big deal today—but in that period in time, you have to understand, this wasn’t just a mean name, this was a racial slur:
Syrophoenecia was the area up north over by the Mediterranean sea, modern day Lebanon, only the difference of about 100-150 miles. So just stretch it, and think of Philadelphia. [pause] Some stinky woman from Philadelphia, who never went to church (and cheers for the Phillies and the Eagles). Can you believe she’s got the nerve to ask our dear Jesus for a hand out? And Jesus calls her a dog.
How do you deal with this? …Jesus making cruel, racial slurs. Does that mean it’s ok? Biblical scholars have tried to soften this through the years (some say Jesus was testing her, or he was just kidding) – but many scholars are also realizing we can’t get around this terrible name-calling episode –
The Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence said that Jesus called a woman something that would have made his mamma slap his mouth and say, “I did not raise my boy to talk that way!”
And she knew it too – that Syrophoenecian woman — she was a mama herself. She knew that it was not an appropriate thing to say, and so she spoke up; she stood up to Jesus and said: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table.” [pause]
She didn’t let him off the hook. And it was as if something snapped in Christ and he turned to her – and instead of chastising her (imagine if you were in a position of power over someone and they talked back to you) — instead of publicly shaming her or punishing her for her lack of respect – Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter (the next generation).” [pause]
What a story. What do we learn from it? And the account immediately after where the blind man is made to see?
What do we learn of God from all this?
One: Don’t let Jesus off the hook. Ask for what you want—make sure it’s the right thing. And then keep coming back. Jesus can take it. He can take your anger, your standing up to him, your assertiveness. Christ even admires it.
This text is not about emboldening bullies and racists, it’s about empowering the downtrodden and pushed-aside.
It’s not always pretty — Jesus employs a racial slur and you should be furious at him for that (and under anger is always hurt and fear)! It’s not always pretty, but in the end, sisters and brothers in Christ, God always responds.
It’s not always pretty, but in the end God gathers us in, heals our hurts and our fears and our sins, and then—having been forgiven and transformed—we are sent back out…to go and do likewise. To go and heal the hurts and pains of our neighbor, to forgive and love, and forgive and love, and forgive and love…and serve. We emerge from this very challenging Gospel text even stronger.
And then the pesky book of James today holds our feet to the fire and says, “When someone comes into your church who’s obviously down and out, poor, maybe smelly (an outside group perhaps that asks to use “our” church). And we say, ‘Sit way over there, you dog.‘ Versus when someone who drives a fancy car, wears nice jewelry and designer brands, smells good, and has a nice wallet, you say, ‘C’mon in. Please sit here in the front row. Could I get you some coffee? Wanna teach Sunday School?”
James full-on questions that person’s BELIEF IN GOD! When our words and our actions, our faith and our works, don’t line up, James might just dismiss us—like many young people, frankly, who look at the church and say, “Well, they must not really believe in God. Look at how they treat the outsider.” Ugh, that pesky Lorax James – would have certainly held Jesus’ feet to the fire, upon hearing how Jesus himself first treated that annoying woman from Philly.
Sisters and brothers in Christ – these are challenging texts today, they go deep. Here’s the Good News: first, we get to hold Jesus’ feet to the fire. Put the pressure on him. Ask Jesus for what you want for yourself, for this country, for this planet. Demand justice for women. Cry out for peace.
“Smart off” to him for fair treatment of everyone regardless of gender or nation of origin or religious persuasion or any other hot-button modern-day dividers. Make sure it’s the right thing.
Shouldn’t everyone get the same…mercy, love, forgiveness, healing care, grace, treatment from God? The Syrophoenecian woman sure thought so. And she demanded it from Christ. And Christ came through in the end. In the end, there is healing and grace.
Christ comes though with you today. The road might have been rocky up to this point, it’s not always pretty, but God is here. Reaching out to you, promising you the same things that the Syrophoencian Philadelphian woman demanded. God reaches out to you with a hand of healing. Forgives you this day, and asks that you now go out and forgive and serve and welcome others…with the kind of passion and commitment that we see in the Scriptures.
You know the other thing we see in the scriptures? Imperfect people, mouthy people, racist people, selfish people. We see broken people in the Bible, and this is good news because it means that God can take even us and turn us into forgiven and blessed healers and tellers of God’s enduring love. Our eyes have been opened too.
Beloved, let us love one another, Ephesians says, for love is of God and anyone who loves is born of God. You are born of God – a child of God: forgiven, healed, joyful, eyes wide open – and now free to go and tell the Good News to everyone you meet.
May it be so, this day and all days. AMEN.