The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 15th Chapter
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.
What was Jesus thinking? What was Jesus doing calling this poor woman with a demon tormented daughter, a dog? This was one of the most vile, nasty, insults you could use in that culture. What was Jesus thinking?
Was Jesus NOT thinking and then after talking with this woman for a bit, the light bulb suddenly lit up and he realized that God’s love and grace and healing was for everybody? Or was it that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing from the very beginning? Was he using the shock value to get the people’s attention so he could hammer home a point?
None of us can crawl inside Jesus’ head, but reading the scripture around this story, that might just be what he was doing. In the beginning of this chapter Jesus had an argument with the Pharisees about hand washing. It was an argument about more than just soap and water, it was an argument about who God draws inside God’s circle and who is drawn out.
The Pharisees were certain that only people like them… born to Jewish parents and perfect followers of the Law could be drawn in God’s circle. That Canaanite woman was not one of God’s people simply because she had the wrong parents. Nothing she did or didn’t do in life could change that. She was drawn out before she drew her first breath! Jesus and the disciples might have had the right sort of parents but they failed miserably at the rest, so they too were drawn out of God’s circle. Jesus had tried to reason with the Pharisees but that didn’t work. It’s what comes out of you that God really cares about, he told them. It's how you love God and one another that really matters. But when that didn’t work, perhaps Jesus tried a different, more shocking method.
By treating that woman like the Pharisees would, Jesus got their attention. “Oh, look Jesus is coming around to our way of thinking.” But then Jesus did what Jesus did all the time. After pulling them along in a way that made them comfortable…when they least expected it…he took a hard left turn. “Woman, you're a dog"! Then the turn and, "Woman great is your faith!” The Pharisees needed a neck brace after that turn!
Growing in faith, from drawing the circle of God’s love only around just a few who look, sound, behave and believe just like us, to the point where we can draw a circle that embraces all of humanity in God’s love… That’s a giant transformation! When we think about drawing a circle that big… which includes so many… we often fear there won’t be enough. Will there really be enough of God’s love for so many? Will I still have what I had before if ALL of THEM are included too? The fear of scarcity is a powerful fear.
But as Christians we believe there IS enough of God’s love for ALL, even to overflowing. Personally, I like ALL because when God draws a circle that embraces ALL, it must be a circle large enough to even include the likes of me. Some people though, have trouble with a circle that includes ALL. The Pharisees had trouble with ALL. With the recent emboldening of white supremacists, nazis and racists, it's clear they too have trouble with ALL. This trouble with ALL grows out of fear. Will there be enough power, privilege, influence, jobs, housing… will there be enough left for me if we include ALL of THEM? These are today’s sinful Pharisees who insist on purity and proper parents. They wave torches, throw Coke cans filled with concrete, shout slogans, injure and kill, use hate and violence, lies and fear, all to keep everyone they would label as dogs out of a circle that includes ALL.
The Good News is that it doesn't matter what they think or what they do or what they fear. Jesus has ALREADY drawn the circle of God's love so it already includes ALL! Jesus let the dogs in! All us dogs! His death and resurrection has torn a hole in the fence and even the mangiest of us dogs are now included at the feast at God's Table. ALL are drawn in God's circle. ALL are included in the grace, love, healing and wholeness that God intends for all of creation.
ALL's still hard though. Even for those of us who would never march with torches or shout nazi slogans. It’s hard because we all know someone, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d like to draw out of our circle. We all know someone who’s not exactly the sort of dog we’d like inside our fence. So, knowing we shouldn’t DIRECTLY exclude anyone, we say things like "hate the sin and love the sinner" or “they just won’t be comfortable in our neighborhood or church” and suddenly, even without the shouting or the bloodshed, we too have drawn a circle that includes less than ALL.
The truth of this lesson is that ALL are welcome in God’s Kingdom and God sent his Son, not just to suggest it, but to make it happen with his life, death and resurrection. Now, you and I, as followers of the One who has drawn a circle so large it includes all of creation... WE are called to do the same. So together let us draw ever larger circles. Let us get to know the people who hateful people call dogs. Let the world around us see us Standing for Love with them, shielding them, advocating with them, singing, eating, laughing and crying with them until the circles WE draw look more and more like the circle GOD has already drawn. And as we do that… as we draw wider and wider circles... it is through those widening circles we will see more and more of the Kingdom of God. Amen.