Proper 18B, 2018
Lectionary text can be found at http://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp18_RCL.html
Every week, when we hear the passages of scripture proclaimed, we are participating in the Church’s understanding that the Word of God is the foundation out of which we are rooted and grounded. Over the course of three years, with regular Sunday attendance, we will hear the majority of scripture spoken out loud in an expression of the oral tradition that would have been the means by which the earliest Christians would have received these passages.
On Saturday morning, as my children snuggled close looking through books, I considered the importance of oral story telling. Not just to pre-readers, but to readers who are looking for assistance in understanding expressions of humanity that they are experiencing for the first time.
Try reading the "Little House" books to an eager listener and then realizing that you’re going to need to explain the scene in which little Laura begs her Papa to give her a Native American child. Or “A Wrinkle in Time” as you are confronted by an earnest child who wants to know why Meg keeps calling herself “stupid” and why the school principal is so unkind.
Who knew bedtime could be so fraught?
No less fraught is the time we spend encountering the biblical story.
Noah’s ark. David and Goliath. Genocide, rape, and exploitation committed by our ancestors in the faith.
These are troubling stories, heart wrenching stories, powerful stories. These are stories without easy answers that confront us with hard questions about who we are and about the faith we have inherited. And, so we engage with the text from a position of curiosity and confrontation.
What does THIS tell us about the grace of God? What does THIS tell us about who we are, where we have fallen short, and who we are called to be?
Who we are called to be…because when we engage whole heartedly with the scripture we are learning as much about ourselves as we are about the text. We are learning about our priorities, our prejudices, our biases. We are learning about our own capacity for forgiveness and our capacity for love. We are learning about how our own truth, our own reason and experience, impact our understanding of the Word of God.
And, these are valuable—truly priceless—lessons.
And, this is my point of departure for encountering the Gospel we have heard today.
On a Sunday I have, half-jokingly, referred to as “Jesus being a jerk” Sunday.
A Sunday upon which we see the unflattering side of the full humanity of Jesus.
When, confronted by a desperate parent, he refuses to help her and the child for whom she is advocating. Refuses on the basis of her race and creed. Refuses because SHE is not the one he came for.
This is not a flattering portrait of the man we call our Lord and Savior.
So, why is it here? Why did this story become part of the cannon of scripture? What about this story demanded to be told to generation upon generation—told, at the hearth and in the home, in the pages and in the churches.
This story stands at a critical pivot point in Jesus’ earthly mission. This story depicts the moment in which the limited mission becomes a mission for the world entire. The moment in which the limited scope of salvation is recast most gloriously as a mission for all people.
The woman confronting Jesus, is not an Israelite and her ancestors were not part of the lineage of Abraham and Sarah. She is an outsider who sees the power and privilege at work in the world and demands a portion of it for herself and those she loves. She makes herself inconvenient—she stands in Jesus’ way, demanding that he see her and respond to her, not as an outsider but, as an insider. An insider who came to demand equity not under the law—but beyond the law. Beyond the law that would have cast her away, beyond the law that would continue to deny her full humanity.
She confronts Jesus and demands that he be consistent with his own teachings—for, as we heard proclaimed last week, “the Pharisees and the scribes asked [Jesus], “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
“Teaching human precepts as doctrines”. The human precept that only the Israelites mattered. The human precept that there is not enough of God’s love to go around. The human precept that salvation is only available to some. The human precept that there are people unworthy of the grace of God.
Consider the world in which we live, consider the racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, classism—all of which hold up a precept that some matter more than others, that some lives are worth less than others, that good news is reserved for a small percentage who hold most of the power.
These are human precepts they are NOT doctrine, they are NOT the law of Love, they are NOT the teaching of the Church. And, in this moment we have the opportunity to see Jesus casts aside his human biases and embrace the true expansiveness of his mission. No longer can anyone claim that the good news of God is only available to some and not all!
Jesus been woke! Jesus been woke!
And, no longer can anyone say that God plays favorites. No longer can anyone say that only some are deserving.
And, this, this changes everything. Which is why a Syrophoenician woman stands at the center of the good news we hear today. The good news that defines the church as a place in which we will hear inconvenient truths, painful realities, and powerful testimonies that will continuously change the shape of our ministries and expand the boundaries of who we “thought” part of the Body of Christ.
Children of God, people of St. Clement’s, “you do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Every neighbor. Everyone. Every child of God. The mission has been expanded and the scripture is explicit--all means all.
BCP page 855,
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,
priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his
Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be;
and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on
Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the