The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought on the most remarkable healing story in Christian scripture — the only story where Jesus is both the healer and the healed … Gnaw away!
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost: Matthew 15:10-28
Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and
understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but
it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples
approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offense
when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly
Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind
guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall
into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he
said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that
whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the
sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is
what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery,
fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person,
but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.’ 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.’ He answered,
‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 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.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be
done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
After Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water, they land at
Genessaret (they had traveled across the Lake of Genessaret), where
Jesus’ reputation preceded him. Matthew says:
After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout
the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they
might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were
This notoriety was threatening to the Pharisees, who make a power play,
trying to catch Jesus in a violation of the law — not washing hands before
eating. Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees, pointing out their own
This is where our reading picks up. Jesus defines community not by
adherence to external practices but by quality of being — what comes from
the heart. But who will be part of this community? Who is eligible for
membership? The second story — one of the most remarkable in the Gospel —
deals with that question. Jesus is confronted by a Canaanite woman and both
he and his disciples push her away, saying the beloved community Jesus
brings is only for Jews. But the woman persists and through her persistence
the gates of the kingdom are opened for all.
A few things to chew on:
*”What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,” Jesus says. Two
things jump out of this phrase. The first is that words are important, they
are powerful, they can bear the best and worst of what it means to be
human. Words are to be used with great care as they have the power to heal
and wound. Second is that as powerful as words are, the beloved community
of Christ is not one of lip service. The beloved community of Christ is a
community of the heart. Not of just giving the right answers and jumping
through the right hoops — not just the appearance of righteousness but the
genuine article. We are to live lives of faithfulness and trust — where
our hearts and our words line up with Christ. And that means no aspect of
our lives is hidden from Christ or each other. It means we are all
community property, called to live holy, healthy lives.
*Think how much energy we spend on arguing with those who bait us. Entire
television networks are devoted to just this pursuit! Jesus’ attitude
toward the Pharisees is instructive. The disciples are worried that he has
offended them and want to keep engaging them and smooth things over. But
Jesus knows that the games the Pharisees are trying to play are
distractions, and if they choose to play them that’s their business but he
won’t be dragged in — he has more important matters to tend to. “Let them
alone. They are blind guides for the blind.” Would that we all cultivate
such wisdom about when to walk away!
In his commentary on Matthew, Stanley Hauerwas says “This
woman, this unknown Canaanite woman, not only becomes for us Gentiles the
forerunner of our faith, but her reply to Jesus teaches us how to speak.”
Anything that really matters in life is worth fighting for. And what could
matter more than our relationship with God in Christ? A few weeks ago we
heard the Genesis reading of Jacob wrestling with the angel. That story and
this are models for our relationship with God.
This week, practice speaking boldly to God. Each day search your heart for
something deeply important to you … your heart’s desire, an answer you
seek, a wound you need healed. Then lay it all out in prayer. Be bold. Be
The story of the Canaanite woman is a story of persistence through repeated and traumatic rejection. What experience have you had in your life of this – either as one who was rejected or one who was the rejector? Reflect on what you have learned from the experience and what wounds you still carry from the experience.
Healing the child, healing Jesus.
This week, we get one the most remarkable healing story in Christian scripture — because it is the only story where Jesus is both the healer and the healed.
This is a healing story, not just of the woman and her daughter but of Jesus. And what Jesus was healed of because of the persistence and the love of the mother, because of Jesus having ears to hear and eyes to see, because of Jesus’ ability to be moved and changed by seeing the deep humanity of the sister kneeling before her, what Jesus was healed of … was his racism.
Let me say that again. Jesus was healed of his racism.
Jesus is a faithful Jew. Pretty much every culture has its endemic racial prejudices and for a first-century Jew, a Canaanite – and particularly a Canaanite woman – was a second-class person at best and less than human at worst. Ignoring and disparaging people like her is probably how he was raised his whole life. It was learned racism. And this week, on Jesus’ lips we hear words that would not have been out of place at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
He calls her an animal. He calls her a dog.
But this amazing woman, who is pleading for the life of her child, like a tree standing by the water, she shall not be moved. She takes his insult and turns it right back on him. She knows who he is. She has called him “Lord, Son of David” and now she is reminding him who he really is, calling him to his best self.
“Even an animal,” she says, “Even a dog gets to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
And when Jesus heard these words, he was brought up short.
And I have to believe he took a deep breath.
And let it out.
And realized that God was there, right there in front of him.
I have to believe he paused for a while to let her words sink in, to let them convict him and convert him, because his next words were so different from his last.
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her child was healed instantly.
There were two healings that day. The child was healed, but Jesus was, too. Jesus was healed of his racism. Yes, Jesus was infected with racism. It’s OK to admit it. Jesus was fully human and that means he could be shaped by a racist culture just like the rest of us.
And if Jesus can have racism and Jesus can be healed of his racism. Then so … can … we.
Last Sunday, Maggie Cunningham preached:
“The Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us that the pathology of the nation is the sum of the unaddressed shadows of its citizens. ‘What has been denied in the individual will create monsters in the tribe,’ he writes.”
Maggie urged us to look at the monsters that we have created – the monsters wearing swastikas and carrying torches on the streets of Charlottesville and the monster defending them with faint damnation and false equivalencies from the Oval Office. To look at those monsters and not only to condemn them but to realize that they are our creations – that they are not just outside of us but within us as well..
To realize that they represent not an aberration but the powerful worst angels of our human nature. A racism that is endemic in our society and in our hearts that needs healing.
And like the Canaanite woman, God continues to raise up powerful women of color who nevertheless persist in lovingly confronting us with our racism, longing for our conversion.
As a friend of mine posted on Facebook this week:
“A Black WOMAN roped the Confederate statue to be pulled down in Durham yesterday.
A Black WOMAN climbed a flagpole in Columbia to take down the Confederate flag.
Three Black WOMEN brought us Black Lives Matter and jumpstarted a movement.
A Black WOMAN was the first African-American to put themselves in the running for a major party nomination for President.
A Black WOMAN refused to give up her seat on a bus.
A Black WOMAN made some 13 trips back to the South to shuttle slaves north to Freedom.”
All of these women confronted and confront America with our racism. All of these women were called dogs and worse. All of them persisted.
The question is … what will we say and do next?
We strive to be Christlike not because Jesus was perfect. If Jesus didn’t struggle, he wouldn’t have been human. We strive to be Christlike because when confronted with anything less than loving – even in himself – Jesus chose love.
There are those who are crying, like the Canaanite woman, right now. They are planting themselves in front of this nation as she did in front of Jesus with their hands up and they are saying “We will be ignored no more. You will save our children. And we will not be moved, we are not going away, and we are not shutting up until you do.”
And for White America. For those of us who look like me. It is time for us to get our house in order. This is our “What would Jesus do?” moment. And we know what Jesus would do because this Gospel tells us what Jesus did.
What would Jesus do when a woman whom he victimized with his prejudice, when a woman he has treated like a second-class citizen … when a woman he has treated like a dog is kneeling before him and pleading for the life of her child?
How do we live as people of Christ in this moment? We do as Jesus did.
We take a deep breath.
And we let it out.
And we realize that we are walking on holy ground. We realize that this moment, painful as it is, tragic as it is, frightening as it is, is deeply sacred. We realize that God is right here standing in the breach and bridging the gap between all our us’s and all our them’s, staring at our racism and inviting us to look in the mirror at it, too. And we look at this amazing woman with great admiration, and with equal parts joy and pain, through self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life we find a way to say:
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the child will be healed. And so will we.
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every
Sunday – just click here.
Collect for Sunday
Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for
sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully
the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps
of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who
wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.