First Reading Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Isaiah declares that God will draw to himself all who look to him for salvation and deliverance whether or not they are of the people of Israel.
Second Reading Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Paul tells his readers that God has not rejected his chosen people but that all people are able to receive God’s grace and mercy.
Gospel Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
Jesus encounters a Gentile woman who begs him to heal her daughter. Although initially Jesus is apparently hesitant and reluctant, the woman’s courage and faith touch him so that her daughter is healed in spite of her not being one of God’s chosen people.
HOMILY “Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’” (Matthew 15:28)
I was asked the other day a rather amusing question: How well do you know your congregation? Well, I thought, I know most people at St Mary’s quite well and thanks to all our social events and so much more that is going on in and around Thorpe I think I know quite a few in the wider Village also. And then I was told this amusing story: A Priest walking along the beach at Bournemouth was deep in prayer. All of a sudden, he said out loud, "Lord, grant me one wish." Suddenly the sky clouded above his head and in a booming voice, God said, "Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish."
The priest timidly asked, "Please Father, build me a bridge to France, so I can pop over the channel any time I want to do some shopping." The Lord replied, ‘That request is very materialistic. Think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the Sea! The concrete and steel it would take! And then the environmental costs involved! Of course, I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of another wish, a wish you think would honour and glorify me." The priest thought about it for a long time. Finally he said, "Lord God of all creation, I wish that I could understand my congregation, I want to know how they feel inside, what they are thinking, you know, really get to know them – all of them.” There was a brief silence before God replied, "How many lanes would you like on that bridge?"
Sometimes, we can feel that we need a bridge for our faith and I know I pray regularly for a deeper respect and love between faiths, and even traditions within faiths. Today’s Gospel reading tells us all about the Canaanite woman’s faith. Jesus was on his way to the district of Tyre and Sidon, which lay outside of Jewish territory. The people in this place where mainly Gentiles, that is to say, not Jewish. All seems normal – Jesus is teaching and ministering when a woman shouts at the top of her voice, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.’ She continues, ‘My daughter is tormented by a demon.’ Unusually, Jesus doesn’t respond immediately to the need before him. The woman knows she has to do something to command the Lord’s attention – to build a bridge – so she is persistent. She has faith in Jesus and his ability to love and to heal and she begs him to help her. In a moment Jesus acknowledges her faith, and the daughter is instantly healed.
A simplistic reading of this passage is perhaps troubling. Jesus’ suggestion that ‘it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs’ seems rather harsh. Remember that the Evangelist behind this Gospel, known to us as Matthew, is writing from a Jewish perspective, perhaps to newly converted Christians who bring with them a deep tradition of Judaism – the term used by Jesus ‘the dogs’ was an abusive term used by the Jews at the time to refer to the Gentiles.
Matthew is showing Jesus’ Jewish roots and heritage – but we can also interpret this unusual response in another way. Jesus is testing the woman and it is by her willingness to persist, her faith in the Lord, that Jesus acts, regardless of the fact that she and her daughter are not Jewish.
Later in the same Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples, before he ascends into heaven (The Great Commission) to, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ (not just Israel), by ‘baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. Jesus sends his disciples to all parts of the world, to all people, to all of creation.
We know that Jesus does really care about all people, not just the Jews, and therefore the Church is welcoming of all people today – or at least we should be. The Canaanite woman displayed her faith by her persistence, and Jesus responded with faithfulness. But do we respond positively to the faithfulness of others, even if aspects of their lives, their decision making, their faith don’t fit neatly into the boxes we create for them? The temptation is to challenge difference by withdrawal or by ignoring others – the opposite of building bridges.
There are times when each of us finds faith hard work – and relating our faith to others even more difficult. There are times, perhaps due to ill health, or bereavement, or financial hardship, or any other reason that life seems to throw at us, when our faith in God seems to stumble. Yet our Lord of life and love is calling us to persistence. He gives us the strength and the support of a community of faith, this Church community, to see us through the tough times.
Therefore, it is our job as Christians here to nurture, love and support one another through life’s hardships and difficulties – for we are all different, as the psalmist reminds us: (Psalm 139:14) “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” In essence, we are called to live our lives in the light of our faith in God who is accepting, loving and forgiving of all people everywhere and who longs, through Jesus his Son, to unite us all into one family of faith.
There are many ways in which we can do this. Firstly, we need to make sure that we get to know each other here at St Mary’s rather better – a family needs to support one another. If there is someone we haven’t seen in church recently – give them a call, drop them a card, ask them out to tea or lunch. Perhaps, have a look around after the service to see if there is someone that you have not spoken to before, and just introduce yourself. And we must also pray for each other and love one another, just as Jesus has loved us – even if there are things that challenge us. And we need to let others love and support us too. This is a two-way process, and it is essential for a community of faith to thrive. Be persistent in your faith. Get to know those who you don’t know. Be assured that your brothers and sisters in Christ love you, as does the Lord Jesus, so very much. And seek to build bridges of faith. Amen.
1. Jesus teaches his followers that it is what’s in our hearts that makes us clean or unclean and what’s in our hearts is shown in our words and deeds.
2. When faced with a Gentile (Canaanite) woman asking him to heal her daughter, Jesus seems to have to think through his calling and ministry.
3. Jesus responds to the woman’s faith and persistence and her daughter is healed.
4. We are called to live our lives in the light of our faith in God who is accepting, loving and forgiving of all people everywhere.