All will receive God's mercy
Let us Pray: Breathe on us, O God, that we may be filled with your Spirit - and led by your living word - Jesus Christ our Lord. Bless the word of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. We ask it in his name. Amen.
We have heard the Scriptures and the stories they tell. Stories help us to use our imagination, they help us to hear what God is saying to us, and when we listen and wonder as did our ancestors by their fires and in their temples and synagogues, the Holy Spirit helps us to hear what it is God is saying.
Here is another story: As you listen ask yourselves what was the event like? what were the people in it thinking about? what happened and why did it happen that way? How is God found in the story?
Relax and listen prayerfully to this story from Matthew 15:21-28, written by Richard Fairchild
“She didn't belong there. I knew it and the rest of us knew it.
We were just sitting down to dinner when she barged in. The dogs woke up immediately and from their place under the table they began to bark. One of the children started to cry as the woman frantically looked around the room I was startled and I stood up immediately. I could feel myself beginning to get angry as I look at this dishevelled and dirty woman.
John and James, who had been sitting near the door had leapt up at the same time I had - and they were already reaching out to stop the woman from coming closer to the table when she spotted the master.
"Lord, Son of David" - she cried out as they moved in front of her, "Have mercy on me! My daughter is sick. She is suffering terribly from demon possession..."
The master must have heard her over the noise of the two dogs and the child, but he never said a word. He didn't even look up from his plate.
By this time not only John and James, but I and three others had surrounded the woman and we began to hustle her out the door. She was interrupting not only our meal, but the time that Jesus had specially set aside for teaching us about the Kingdom he was going to establish. We had no intention of letting her get in the way of that.
The woman struggled a bit, but she didn't have a chance. Hauling nets gives a person a lot of strength, and she was outnumbered. We got her outside even more quickly than a bouncer gets a drunk out of a tavern.
But let me tell you, once outside, she caused just as much trouble as a drunk does. She was loud and insistent. She tried to get by us and to get back inside. She kept on saying to us that she had to see the miracle worker, that her daughter was in terrible shape, that she needed help.
She must of clutched at and grabbed each and every one of us as she pleaded.
I tell you, she was a real pain. I just wanted to get back inside for dinner.
James tried to reason with her. "Look", he said, "You have no right to be here. You've got no right to bother the teacher. You are a foreigner, you don't believe in anything we believe in, your people are gentiles, they are heathens, and your behaviour shows that you are too. There is no way the master is going to help you, so please go away."
"I've got to see him", she said, "I know he can help me. He has done so much for others."
"That may be", James said, "but he's not going to do anything for you. You are not only a woman, you are a Canaanite, You don't go to the synagogue, You don't obey the law of Moses, You are unclean, You eat forbidden food. To make matters worse... you have absolutely no respect. Jesus is trying to eat. He is a guest in another man's home, and this is supposed to be a special time for us all, And you just barge in and start demanding help! Listen! Please! Go away! You are not going to get help here."
You know what she did?
That wretched woman just shook her head and said: "I know he will help me, he's got to help me!"
John butted in, "Look", he said, "Go away. We've told you that your not welcome here. We've told you that Jesus isn't going to have anything to do with your type. So why don't you just get lost."
I tell you she was a crazy woman. She didn't know her place, that's for sure. The more we said to her, the louder and more persistent she was. She cried, she begged, she screamed. There was no reasoning with her. After a few minutes of this I got the idea of asking Jesus to tell her to go away. I figured that if he said something to her she'd get the picture and stop her infernal racket. I mentioned the idea to a couple of the others and they agreed that it was the only thing to do if we were going to have any peace.
As soon as I opened the door to go in the dogs began barking again. Someone hissed at them to be quiet as I went over to Jesus. He was sitting with the child who had cried earlier and eating and talking with our host Our host looked a little embarrassed. He was trying to pretend that nothing was going on - but the woman was standing just outside the open door where my two mates were waiting for the word and the noise level was none too low.
"Excuse me", I said to the Master, "could you please tell that woman to go away. She is really pestering us with all her crying and carrying on."
Jesus look at his host, then at me, and said -- "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." --
I tell you, Jesus was really frustrating at times. He never seemed to give a straight answer to a simple question. But even so, this time he was backing us up. It was like he had heard everything we had said to the woman, so I turned to tell the wretched woman that the master had told her to go away.
Just as I was turning around, she squeezed by the guys at the door and ran over to right beside the master, and fell on down on her knees at his feet.
"Lord, help me", she said.
I didn't do a thing. I was tired. I figured after what he had said Jesus would handle it just fine. And he did.
Jesus looked at her at his feet.
She bowed her head and looked down.
Then he looked around the room for a moment. The child beside him was busy eating a piece of bread as if nothing untoward had happened. The dogs were nuzzling around under the table. Our host was staring at him, no doubt wondering what Jesus was going to do to get rid of this problem John and James and the others were all inside by this point. They were still standing, waiting to see if they were going to be needed again.
It became very quiet in the room as the master looked around, the only sounds were those of the flies and of the child eating Then Jesus looked down at the woman and said to her
"It is not right to take the children's bread and to toss it to the dogs"
A couple of the disciples smiled. I must confess that I grinned too. It was such a well turned phrase. The kind that only Jesus seemed to be able to come up with. It made the point well. As far as I was concerned, it certainly disposed of her and all of her kind.
I caught James looking at me and began to nod my head at him. As I did so the woman looked up at Jesus and stared him in the eyes.
"Yes Lord", she said to him in this incredibly calm and clear voice, and I swear to you she had this little smile on her face, "Yes Lord", she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
I was stunned. The woman really was too much. Lippy, rude, obnoxious, unclean, disrespectful, I could go on!
Anyway - do you know what Jesus did?
He smiled at her, as if it was all some great contest of wits and he said to her "Woman, you have great faith, For your reply, your request is granted. Go home, you daughter is healed."
I just could not understand it. I mean why in the world did Jesus do that? She did not belong there. She was not one of us. She was nothing but a Canaanite. Jesus knew it, I knew it, and the rest of us knew it. I just don't understand Jesus sometimes. I just don't understand..........
How can we understand? How can we acknowledge the mystery of God? We can only read the Word and learn from it. We can picture the woman’s story all so much better now. We can emphasise with her grief, and we can understand her absolute faith in Jesus the Healer.
The woman’s daughter was healed by Jesus. Why?! Because she had faith enough to persist, to continue aggravating the disciples, until finally Jesus saw how strong was her faith - he believed her and he healed her daughter. Jesus said “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”, and her daughter was healed instantly. (John 15:28)
In Genesis 45 when Joseph tells his brothers who he really is! You can imagine the brothers shock, horror, anger and worst of all the guilt and the fear. Guilt of what they had done to Joseph and guilt over the terrible sadness as their father suffered from the loss of his son. Their fear was real. Fear of what Joseph would do to them, he could make them suffer, he could even put them to death. They were afraid and horrified to have been caught out - they were guilty and had been for many years, they had lied and cheated, they had devastated their father and their brother Benjamin.
We know the rest of the story - the Father’s special love for this particular son, Joseph. He had many other sons but he treated Joseph different - He made Joseph a multicoloured coat, and Joseph showed it off and angered his brothers and told of his dreams of how he would lead others. Joseph's great faith in God, his belief that God chose him 'to preserve for them a remnant on earth, and to keep alive many survivors', allowed him to receive God's mercy. He obeyed God.
We cannot imagine the relief they must have felt when Joseph, relented, he forgave them, he said that it was God’s will that Joseph be put in a position of power “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to keep alive for you many survivors.” In God’s mercy they were forgiven and healed. Freed from the burden of many years of guilt and deceit. Joseph’s belief in God gave him the strength to make the most of all that happened to him and he was able in the amazing power of God to fulfil God’s purpose for him and his family. Romans 11 reminds us that All, Jews and Gentiles alike have now received the full measure of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Psalm 133 that beautifully illustrates not only the solidarity of the family, but of the whole nation. The blessings continue forever more.
The Canaanite women's story is a special one because she is only a woman, she has no right to go into that room of men, and she was a foreigner, a gentile, but she had faith in Jesus, she believed. Her love for her daughter was so strong, she defied the men, she defied the custom of the land, and she persisted and she persisted against all humiliation and pain. She knew Jesus could save her daughter and her absolute faith saved her daughters life. Our faith can sometimes not save the lives of the people we love. Sometimes the illness is too strong, but where do we get the strength to carry us through the distressful times in our lives? We get it from our faith in the healing power of Jesus the Christ. He heals us, he gives us strength to cope with our own grieving and the grieving of others around us. We receive the mercy of God. Like that woman we must have absolute faith in the healing power of Jesus. All will receive God's mercy.
The Canaanite women’s story is one of perseverance, but more than that it is her absolute faith in the healing power of Jesus that we remember.
Let us pray:
Holy God, help us to understand.
Loving Lord, help us to understand,
that there is not one of us who deserves even the crumbs
that fall from your table -- yet you grant to us all:
Jew and Gentile - young and old -
rich and poor - black and white -
sinner and saint -
the bread of life.
May we always praise your most holy name through Christ Jesus .... Amen