“It’s a Big Table” August 16, 2020
“It’s a Big Table”
Matthew 15: 21-28
It’s a known fact that there will be things in our lives that are guaranteed to trigger certain memories. It happens every time. These memories might fade with time, but they will always be there. Every time that I smell Ivory soap, for example, my mind immediately goes to the big old cast iron bath tub at Grandpa John’s house with the crusty old fixtures and a worn out stopper on a rusty old chain. Every time. Our gospel message today has one of those trigger mechanisms that, for as long as I live, I swear I’ll never be able to shake. As best I can figure, it was probably 6 years ago about this time of year when I was trying my best to make sense out of why Jesus treated this woman they way that he did. Now, if you’re trying to work something out – if you’re wanting to find some kind of discernment- in a particularly tough scripture, it’s usually not a good idea to do that in the middle of a sermon. But that’s what happened to me and I swear that every time I even think about the Canaanite woman, this memorable Sunday morning in the sanctuary of Sheridan Methodist comes to mind.
But before we get into that, let’s revisit this rather weird story. I want to paint as accurate a picture as I can so that you won’t walk away this day believing that I was a total jerk.
For the last few weeks, we have followed Jesus on some pretty wild adventures. Upon the news of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples (Matt 14:13) withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. “a deserted place by himself…” It was time for a break, it was time to get some rest; for Jesus, the son of God and son of man, it was time to come before the Father in prayer. But the crowds figured it out and hiked around the lake to meet him – thousands of them – and Matthew tells us, (vs. 14) he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. If you recall, he ended feeding the whole bunch as well.
Next, Jesus sent the disciples ahead in a boat while he stayed behind to spend time in prayer. That almost ended in disaster as the waves kicked up and the boat just about went under. Once again, Jesus had to walk out to and fix that near disaster. In chapter 15, the Pharisees and big shots come all the way from Jerusalem to check out this Jesus of Nazarene, only to throw a hissy fit that the disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating according to the law of Moses. Jesus gets a little short with them here, reminding them of the laws that they break all the time and telling them it doesn’t matter so much what kind of garbage goes into our mouth; it’s the garbage that comes out of it that is sinful in the eyes of God. And this is just what we know; this is what the Apostles have written. No doubt Jesus was being besieged and bothered every minute of every day by this point. It was time to get away; it was time to go to the beach. So when Matthew tells us that they walked the 50 miles to the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, that’s what was going on: they were going to the coast.
Now, I set everything up the same way years ago when this gospel passage came around: “Jesus was tired,” I said, “the crowds wouldn’t leave him alone, everybody wanted something from him, the 50 mile hike.” Everything. But when it came to the part of the story where Jesus tries to brush this poor woman aside by, basically, calling her a dog – I slipped up. It wasn’t written in my notes, it wasn’t written in my manuscript, but for whatever reason, by way of explaining this unusual behavior, I blurted out, “Let’s face it – Jesus was being a jerk.” I didn’t mean to say it. It just popped out. But what I will never forget is when I happened to glance out and there in the 2nd row sat Gertie and Louise and Ardelle, 3 long time members who were all well into their 80’s at the time…. and their eyes were big as saucers. So yeah, the story of the Canaanite woman will always trigger this certain memory in me. It happens every time.
The truth is, if anyone was being a jerk at that moment, it was me. You know, we can analyze scripture until we’ve literally choked the life out of it sometimes. In our efforts to discern, to “get it”, and to understand, we can totally miss the boat. The message is simple, really and the good news of the gospel is surprisingly the same throughout the teachings of Jesus Christ: “Come to the table, come to the table of grace. It’s a big table. There’s all kinds of room. No one is better or worse, lesser or greater. Just come to the table, and I will welcome you into the kingdom of God.”
So here’s the thing: when Jesus showed up at the coastal towns of Tyre & Sidon, he was met by a woman who called him by name – “Show me mercy, son of David.” This woman was obviously in distress, she was desperate and at her wits end. But rather than focus on Jesus’ reaction, what did the disciples do? “ (vs. 23) And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out to us.” Now take all the other elements of this story and put them on the back burner for a moment. Let’s focus on the disciples’ reaction. Why couldn’t they deal with her? Why did they instead have to go whining to the master? It seems to me that the lesson here is not that everyone was tired and grouchy. The lesson to be learned is that the disciples made a judgement here, and the judgement was that she was not worthy of their time. She was a Canaanite, a half-breed. She was inferior; she was lesser. She was not welcome to the table. But in the end, as we have seen, it is her unwavering faith that seats her squarely in the company of the saints – at the table of grace. And it’s a big table.
Amen & Shalom