Matthew 15: 21-28
August 14, 2011
“Leaving that Place”
Jesus left that place. “That place” was Gennesaret, where he had gotten into it with the Pharisees. Arguing purity laws.
“You can’t eat this. You can’t eat that.”
“Stop!” Said Jesus. “You just don’t get it! It’s not what you eat that makes you dirty. What makes you dirty is the hatred in your heart that comes up and out of your mouth in the form of cruel, ignorant, oppressive words!”
Then Jesus left that place. We’ve all been to that place. I mean, maybe not Gennesaret. But we’ve been to that place of frustration, of exasperation. That place where other people just don’t get it.
The conversation with Aunt Hilda who insists that so-and-so can’t possibly be a Christian because she saw them drinking beer last week.
The news of the kitchen committee that decides to put locks on the cabinets so that the kids and college students and Hispanic congregation won’t use the good dishes.
The politicians whining about all the money we are “wasting” on luxuries like health care for the poor and elderly, public education, food programs.
They just don’t get it!
The student who insists he deserves an A because he worked three hours on that paper.
The professor who gives you a bad grade and writes: “Your ideas are brilliant; your presentation is inspired. You fail to use MLA formatting correctly.”
The child who wants you to buy an instrument and pay for lessons but doesn’t want to practice.
The parent who wants you to practice when you need to talk to your best friend on the phone to see what you’re wearing on the first day of school.
We are surrounded by people who just don’t get it!
After Jesus’ exasperating conversation with the Pharisees, he leaves that place. And he goes away–away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Enemy territory. Where there should be no Pharisees.
And indeed there are no Pharisees. But there is a Canaanite woman. Well, not really. Because there was no longer a land of Canaan. So she was probably a Syro-Phonecian woman, like Mark says. But to Matthew she’s a Canaanite. She’s the enemy. The enemy of the Jewish people. And the enemy of Jesus’ sanity.
Blogger Mike Stavlund, considering this story, asks: “If [Jesus] was infallible, was he necessarily unflappable?”
It’s only been one chapter since Jesus’ friend and cousin John the Baptist was executed. And you might remember that when Jesus tries to get away from that situation the crowds follow him. So instead of a day of prayer and tears and generally feeling sad about life, Jesus spends the day preaching and then has to deal with the disciples’ ignorance and do the whole multiplying loaves and fishes thing.
And after all that preaching, and the miracles, he ends up in that place–that frustrating conversation with the Pharisees. The religious leaders who are supposed to get it, but who totally don’t.
I imagine Jesus just wanted to scream: “Really?! This is what you’re worried about? It doesn’t matter what you eat! You’re just going to poop it out anyway!” If you’ve read through the Gospels, you may have noted that Jesus does not discuss excrement very frequently. He’s clearly reached his limit. It’s pretty obvious he needs some rest.
Which he goes away to get. And then this woman. “Have mercy on me Lord, son of David. My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
Maybe Jesus just can’t take any more. This woman who’s not even Jewish yelling at him about being the son of David. Like she cares. “Maybe, if I just ignore her, she’ll go away.”
Now of course I don’t know exactly what Jesus was thinking. But I do know my own blissful moments of false peace when I block out the infuriating voices and just pretend that everyone around me is as sane as I am.
“If I just ignore her, maybe she’ll go away.” Whether Jesus thinks that or not, he does ignore her. Apparently, he does a pretty good job of ignoring her. But then it’s the disciples who can’t take it any more: “Hey, Jesus! In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a crazy lady yelling at us. Would you please get rid of her!”
Then Jesus tells the disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” This woman is not my problem, says Jesus. I have enough problems just dealing with my own people.
And before the disciples can press their case further, before they can say, “Well, Lord, that may be so, but she’s still here yelling at us.” Before anything else can be said between Jesus and his disciples, the woman rushes to kneel in front of Jesus.
“Lord, help me.”
He can no longer pretend she is not there. Her desperation is too real. Her love for her daughter is too powerful. Plus, if he keeps walking, he’ll step on her.
“Lord, help me.”
Then Jesus says those infamous words. Those words I hate. Those words that are almost enough to make a preacher cuss when she realizes on Monday what scripture she is expected to preach on Sunday. Jesus says to this desperate woman: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“If [Jesus] was infallible, was he necessarily unflappable?”
Why is Jesus so dismissive? So cruel? Because he’s tired? Because he’s sad? Because he’s frustrated and overwhelmed and he just wants her to go away so he can have a little peace?
It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
The Jewish people are the children. You are a dog. Go away.
But this woman–this mother–does not go away. She remains there, kneeling before a man who has just called her a dog. I am amazed by what this woman does.
And I am amazed by what she does not do. She does not do any of the things I imagine I would do in a similar situation. She does not break down in tears. She does not jump up and get in his face: “I am not a dog, you swine. Just who do you think you are anyway?”. She does not simply crawl off to the side of the road or run home to watch her daughter die.
When this story began, the woman was hysterical and Jesus was the calm one. Now the roles are reversed. He has hurled a harsh insult at her, and she calmly replies; agreeing with him yet challenging him at the same time: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Yes Lord, I am not a Jew, yet God has enough blessing for everyone.
And suddenly, finally, Jesus has left that place. That place he has been desperately trying to leave ever since he heard about John’s death. That place of frustration and exasperation. Finally Jesus is talking with someone who gets it. Finally, here is someone who understands about the grace, the mercy, the love, the power of God.
When this story began, the woman was just one more ignorant person that the wise Jesus was expected to deal with. Now Jesus sees that the roles were the reverse. She knew the breadth of God’s grace all along. He was the one who didn’t get it. But now he does.
Rabbi Sheila Peltz had the opportunity to visit to Auschwitz. As she stood before the gates, she said to herself: “I never want to be as certain about anything as were the people who built this place.” . . .
The mother says to Jesus, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
And Jesus knows she is right. And he is grateful to have finally left that place; that place where no one but him gets it. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed instantly.
Thanks be to God!