Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Gospel Reading and Reflection, Sunday, August 23

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
15:10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand:

15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."

15:12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?"

15:13 He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.

15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit."

15:15 But Peter said to him, "Explain this parable to us."

15:16 Then he said, "Are you also still without understanding?

15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?

15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.

15:19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.

15:20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."

15:21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

15:22 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."

15:23 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."

15:24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

15:25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."

15:26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

15:27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

15:28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Why is this story included in Matthew's Gospel? Matthew's Jewish audience would be familiar with the Canaanites given their frequent mention in the Old Testament. It strikes at the heart of the most ancient of animosities in the Old Testament. As the narrative in Joshua and Judges goes, the land of the Canaanites was inhabited by indigenous peoples that the Israelites displaced by murder and mayhem, in order to take the land God had promised Israel. *

Recall that Matthew is a missionary text. According to Luke-Acts, the mission has already traversed many improbable cultural boundaries, such as the development of the Gentile-Greek communities. Matthew adds a contributing story out of Jesus' ministry. Even though an Israelite healing a Canaanite's daughter is improbable, still, with God, all things are possible.**

Consider the Following Surprises
  • The woman is the exemplar in the story (not the disciples, again). She shows the pure, undiluted motivation of love, acting for the best interests of another. What else could explain her action?
  • It's the Canaanite woman first speaking faith where there was complete dismissal.
  • It's the Canaanite woman who actually does God's will and proves to be a true disciple. Recall Matthew 7:21-24.
  • Whom do I dismiss and whom do I deem undeserving or outside of God's blessings?
  • The faith of my enemy (or those I have labeled as "other") is, according to this story, authentic. Maybe more so than mine. I resist this because it exposes my entitlement and privilege.
*According to the biblical narrative in Joshua, Israel was directed by Moses to take Canaanite land and livestock, but chase down the fleeing Canaanites and kill them. Judges notes, in somewhat conflicting fashion, that Israel was unsuccessful in driving out the Canaanites entirely. While most of the surviving Canaanite people were enslaved, Sidon is mentioned in Judges 1:31-32 as one of few settlements where the inhabitants were neither conquered nor subject to forced labor.
**This is one explanation why this story of a Canaanite and her daughter is presented in Matthew.

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