I love my family. My husband and my daughter are the best husband and daughter in the entire universe. And I am not biased. My sister is the best sister in the universe, and I am not biased there, either. But there are times I’d just like to crawl under a rock when they open their mouths. This often happens when my Sainted and Adorable Husband tells a joke.
And I have been told by little birds that love me that there have been occasions when I have opened my mouth, and they were utterly mortified. I’d give you a couple of examples right now, but I know that I would be pulled aside after worship and told to Never Say That Again, Even As A Sermon Illustration!!
All of us have our off moments. Including Jesus.
Now, I love Jesus. Jesus is the reason I’m here today as a moderately viable human being. Without Jesus, I don’t even like to think what I might have become.
But Jesus had his moments. Like the one we heard today, when Mr. Inclusive called the Canaanite woman a dog not worthy of the gospel. Ooooo, Jesus! That was like that time I greeted a person coming in late to worship with “Well, look what the cat has drug in!”
Not a good moment, Jesus. You’re not supposed to say things like that! I’m mean, you’re supposed to be perfect, right, and perfect people don’t call other people garbage-eating, egg-sucking scum, which is what a dog was considered to be in those days.
In our day, dogs are loved and coddled. We have special dog food, dog doctors, dog sweaters. They live in the house, on the bed; they are family. But back then, dogs weren’t family. They wandered the streets eating garbage.
And here is gentle Jesus, the Savior of all humankind. The one who just last week said, “It isn’t what enters into the mouth of a person that makes one unclean, but what proceeds out of the mouth of a person that makes one unclean.” (Mt 15:11) The one who, in the book of Acts, tells Peter, “Do not call unclean that which I have called clean!” I like that Jesus. That Jesus didn’t embarrass me in the least!
But this Jesus… What’s up with this Jesus? Where is the Jesus who takes our abuse, rebellion and blasphemy and feeds us anyway? Surely this story shouldn’t be in the Scriptures!
Commentators throughout history have tried to explain this story away. Martin Luther said that Jesus was just testing the woman’s faith (there have to be kinder ways of testing a person’s faith!). Others have said that the Greek word means “little dog”, and so it isn’t really an insult. Kind of like down south, you can say anything truly horrible about a person, as long as you end it with “Bless her heart.” “You’re a garbage eating, egg-sucking little scumbag, bless your heart.” Perfectly all right!
Other commentators say that Jesus just said it absent-mindedly while He was considering her proposal. Gentiles were always called ‘dogs’ by Jews, like how some people always call people of color the N-word. I don’t know. I expect more from Jesus.
A basic rule of thumb in Biblical studies is that if it’s embarrassing, it probably happened. After all, why would the early church have kept parts of the Bible which were difficult or embarrassing to explain away, unless they were bound by the fact that these really were words from the mouth of Jesus?
And so we’re left with the fact that our Savior probably did call this poor woman a dog, and there is no good, godly reason why He did it. It was an unkind and unacceptable thing for Jesus to say, and we know it, and so has the church for the past 2000 years.
Frankly, I am incapable of defending Jesus’ action. I don’t think I’m supposed to apologize for God. I don’t think I’m supposed to make up excuses for God. But what if I read on a little further…
Jesus goes to Canaan, and a Canaanite woman… (not “canine-ite, mind you, but a person from the land of Canaan!)…this Canaanite woman comes right up to Jesus and shouts at Him- shouts like a person who doesn’t expect to be paid any attention to, shouts like a person who expects to be ignored, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon!”
And just as she expects, Jesus treats her like she doesn’t even exist. How do we feel when people treat us like that- walk right past us when we’re talking to them, as if we don’t even exist.
Remember middle school? You walk into a room, and there’s the cool group, who don’t turn when you walk in, don’t respond to your greeting, treat you as if you’re not human- as if you don’t exist. It was degrading, humiliating, right? That’s what Jesus does- treats her like she doesn’t exist.
But like the t-shirts say, “Nevertheless she persisted,” and this woman keeps shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord! Have mercy on my daughter!”, until Jesus’ disciples come up to Him and say, “Lord, just make her shut up!” So Jesus turns on her and says, “I didn’t come for Your Kind.” Your kind- your kind: exclusive.. Your kind, not my kind.
But the woman comes right up to Him and kneels before Him and keeps asking, “Lord, help me!” Jesus replies, “It’s not right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
How humiliating. How intentionally mean-spirited. What a jerk! How could our Jesus say such a thing? The Jesus who says that the only thing that can make you unclean is what comes out of your mouth? (Mt 12:10) The Jesus who says, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
But the woman takes Jesus’ harsh, humiliating words, and turns them around on Him: “You’re right, Lord; but even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
This brings Jesus up short, and he hears what He has just said, and He sees how He has treated this woman of enormous, resilient faith. And Jesus repents. Mr. Sinless, Mr. Perfect… comes to Himself and repents.
You know, I could never follow someone who lives on a pedestal, sinless and perfect; someone who has nothing in common with me. But someone who can be a complete jerk… and know shame… and make a turn-around: that’s someone I can follow. That’s someone I can say- “I want to be like that. I want to be someone who can change, and grow, and become more whole.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t follow a perfect Savior. I follow a Savior who makes mistakes and has the decency to repent. I follow a Savior who learns from those mistakes, and tries to become a more loving, more whole being. I follow a Savior like Jesus, who was never perfect, but was willing to repent.
Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus- whose love has now found me…
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for Aug. 27, 2017 MATTHEW 15:21-28
Jesus travelled to Canaan, to the area around Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” But Jesus paid no attention to her. His disciples came up to him and said, “Get rid of her! She’s annoying us!” So Jesus turned to her and said, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came close to Him and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, help me!” Jesus replied, “It’s not right to take bread out of the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs.” The woman persisted, saying, “You’re right, Lord; but even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This brought Jesus up short, and he repented. “Woman, your faith is great. Let your heart’s desire come true.” And in that moment, her daughter was healed.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.