A prostitute went to see a minister in dire straits - homeless, sick and unable to buy food for her 2 year old daughter. Through sobs she told of how she had been forced to prostitute her own child to feed her drug habit. He could barely take hearing any more of the story she was telling and besides he was legally bound to inform the authorities if he became aware of any cases of child abuse.
Unsure of what to say to her to offer her any advice, he asked her if she had ever been to church to seek any support. The look she gave the minister was one that would live with him for the rest of his ministry, ‘Church?’, she said incredulously, ‘Church? Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They would only make me feel worse!’
This true story reminds us of the way that people perceive the followers of Jesus to be. In this morning’s Gospel reading - it is Jesus’ disciples who are seeking to send this undesirable noisy woman of questionable integrity and faith away. Jesus should not be mixing and certainly not seen to be mixing with people like her. Would we want to have anything to do with her? People generally think of us as judgmental, holier than thou do-gooders who believe they are better than everyone else. This morning, Jesus reminds us that to be His disciples, to even call ourselves Christians, we must not find ourselves to be anywhere near living out that preconception.
Jesus makes His way out to Tyre and Sidon. These prosperous, multicultural cities were made wealthy through the manufacture and sale of purple cloth, quality cedar timber and ship building. Due to their ‘international trade’, they were heavily influenced by both of the superpowers of the day - the Romans and the the Greeks and were most definitely seen by most Jews as places not to go to. Religiously, the Canaanites worshipped a plethora of Gods including Baal. Jews saw themselves as better than the Canaanites mostly due to Old Testament stories like Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal on the mountaintop.
Why is Jesus going here? As they arrive this local woman starts making a scene. No wonder the disciples start feeling uncomfortable. Yet notice what she is shouting - she calls Jesus - Son of David. She recognises Him as the Jewish Messiah. She may may regularly worship many gods, but she recognises Jesus as someone significant. Maybe she has found that her gods are silent and unable or unwilling to respond to her cries for help. Perhaps the Son of David - God present on earth - can transform her world.
This persistent Canaanite woman approaches this Jewish Messiah and kneels before him. She knows that he can help her cause. She knows that he offers more than empty words or broken promises. Having reiterated to his disciples that he has come to call the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Jesus then responds to her request for help with a very enigmatic statement: It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.
Non Jews, were vilified and popularly called dogs. Is this a racist slur on the lips of our Lord? No. The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of dinner time, with little kids at the table, and their pet puppies at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master, were to be fed after the children. Jesus must take care of those to whom he is sent first.
Did the woman misunderstand Jesus’ words as words of love? ‘But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table...’ Either way, she is clearly demonstrating a very strong faith - even those who don’t deserve to be fed by the master, scavenge for whatever they can. She knows Jesus can give her daughter what she is asking for her.
Jesus challenges the Canaanite woman to articulate her faith - so it’s more than just empty words. She calls Him Son of David, acknowledging Him as the Jewish messiah. Yet she demonstrates that even those outside the expected boundaries of the work of God’s Jewish Messiah, fully understand what He is teaching and revealing - even the dogs eat the crumbs, the words of Godly wisdom and ways to Godly living, that fall.
Jesus welcomes and responds to this woman because her grasp of what it means to have faith. She clearly gets who Jesus is and he includes and welcomes her - even though she would be excluded and alienated by many others. She comes to Jesus as a stranger and leaves a friend.
We all know people like the prostitute I told you about. They are people who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near a church for fear of being condemned. Yet that’s how most people feel about coming to church. But Jesus didn’t invite that Canaanite woman to come to Jerusalem to meet her - he met her in her home town.
There are many people in our community who long to meet with God. They cry out to him in desperation in some cases every day, for release, relief, for healing, for hope. They are often people we wouldn’t expect to see in our churches, and yet if we talk with them - like the Canaanite woman - they know what God can do in and for their lives. They understand the all transforming power of the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This morning are we all too often like the disciples - keeping the Canaanite woman far from Jesus if at all possible, ensuring the ‘undesirables’ are kept away from our Lord? Or are we like Jesus, meeting those people where they are; where we most often are - at the shops, bus stops, chemists, doctors’ surgery or the pub?
On 25th September, B2CS, we encouraging you to rediscover those people you know who wouldn’t normally come to church, who like the Canaanite woman, who have heard of Jesus, who used to come to church, but who don’t anymore and to invite them for a special service on that day. To come back to church. Jesus, in you meets them where they are and invites them into renewed relationship with Him.
This says it all...
After all, what are we offering our community? Crumbs? Memories of what church was or should be? A chance to come to Harvest festival or a beetle drive as lovely as those may be? Or are we offering them Jesus - who meets them in their desperation, offering release, relief, healing, and hope, the Living Bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied? Amen.