“Our Kind of People” August 20, 2023
“Our Kind of People”
Genesis 45:1-15/ Isaiah 56:1-
I would like to begin with a short passage from the prophet Isaiah 56, The first eight verses, which reads ” Be just and fair to all, the Lord God says. Do what’s right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you. 2 Blessed is the man who refuses to work during my Sabbath days of rest, but honors them; and blessed is the man who checks himself from doing wrong.
3 And my blessings are for Gentiles, too, when they accept the Lord; don’t let them think that I will make them second-class citizens. And this is for the eunuchs too. They can be as much mine as anyone. 4 For I say this to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths holy, who choose the things that please me and obey my laws: 5 I will give them—in my house, within my walls—a name far greater than the honor they would receive from having sons and daughters. For the name that I will give them is an everlasting one; it will never disappear.
6 As for the Gentiles, the outsiders who join the people of the Lord and serve him and love his name, who are his servants and don’t desecrate the Sabbath, and have accepted his covenant and promises, 7 I will bring them also to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and make them full of joy within my House of Prayer. I will accept their sacrifices and offerings, for my Temple shall be called “A House of Prayer for All People”!
For the Lord God who brings back the outcasts of Israel says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Now that’s interesting, don’t you think? “I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” As for the Gentiles,… I will bring them also to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and make them full of joy within my House of Prayer.” Yes, that’s interesting.
The reason I wanted to share this with you is because this ancient text just might be the key to unlocking a giant dilemma I’ve been packing around for a long time. I’m talking, of course, about the snarky remarks that Jesus used to dismiss this poor Canaanite woman. I mean, it seems that every time I read this story I can’t decide to be confused or angry or both. But before we dive into that, let’s have another look at the Isaiah passage.
But first consider this: There are 52 weeks in a year. That means that if you are a faithful churchgoer, then in 10 years you will have listened to 520 sermons. Easy math. And chances are that among those 520 sermons a little repetition has bound to have occurred. We preach the story of the prodigal son at least once a year, for example.
But when the Jewish people showed up at the synagogue during the time of Christ, they didn’t come to hear a preacher. No, they were there to hear the spoken word of God, and being as the temple was the only place in town that owned a copy of the written scriptures, then obviously that was the place to go. And being as There were Jewish worshippers at the temple most every day of the week, Then you can bet that a lot of repetition was bound to have occurred, including this particular passage from the prophet Isaiah. Also, you can bet that Jesus knew this passage as well; He probably knew it by heart, and that is my big, giant, humongous dilemma.
I mean, knowing that God had every intention of including all peoples into his ‘House of prayer,’ as Isaiah stated, how do you square the Jesus of compassion, the Jesus who healed the sick and fed the multitudes; how do you square The son of God and the son of man with the same Jesus who told this Canaanite woman who was desperate to save her daughter, ““I was sent to help the Jews, not the Gentiles. “It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs?” I mean, really! How are we supposed to process that?
Last week while discussing Matthew’s account of Jesus actually walking on the water of the sea of Galilee, I mentioned something to the effect that there is no gain in getting crossways with scripture. Things may not add up, they might not jive, and they might even make us a little uncomfortable, but don’t sweat that. The thing to do is look to find the message. and there’s always a message. The story of the Canaanite woman is no exception.
A few days earlier, Jesus and his disciples Found themselves the target of much hissing and bloviating from the Pharisees because one of them, God forbid, had neglected to wash his hands before eating a chunk of bread which, according to tradition, made the food unclean. It was a classic example of weak authority figures looking to find a ‘gotcha’ moment in order to bolster their authority. Jesus wouldn’t have it, however, answering, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up,” which annoyed these Jewish authorities to no end. The disciples even pointed out that he had offended the Pharisees by that remark, and I suppose it did. But that’s what happens when you hang out with Jesus too much:
the moment we start to treasure our customs and traditions more than the gospel, Jesus will call us out every time.
After the last few years, we have all been made painfully aware of the value of hand washing to prevent the spread of disease, but these people were obsessive about it. There are even reports of priests who suffered terrible thirst because they refused to drink the water reserved for hand washing lest they run out. We, on the other hand, have plenty of water and we have soap and I would encourage you all to continue using them. With the Pharisees, it was different. It seems to me that they clung desperately to this ancient tradition not so much to prevent disease but in order that they might feel justified looking down their noses at “those filthy Gentiles;” those filthy gentiles who are not cool and in the know like us; those filthy gentiles: they’re just not our kind of people.”
And so it was that after having his say with the self-serving Pharisees, Jesus decided to go to, where else, the coast: to the twin cities of Tyre and Sidon there on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a 50 mile walk from Gennesaret. So imagine if we were to take off today and walk to Lincoln City; it’s going to take a while.
During this journey, we can also imagine that there was quite a bit of discussion about what had happened at Gennesaret. Jesus might even have reminded them of the words that God spoke to Isaiah saying: “As for the Gentiles, the outsiders who join the people of the Lord 7 I will bring them also to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and make them full of joy within my House of Prayer.” There was a lesson to be learned here and Jesus was making sure that the disciples understood it.
But it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be easy, because the instant they arrived at the towns of Tyre and Sidon they were besieged by a woman hollering and screaming: ““Have mercy on me, O Lord, King David’s Son! For my daughter has a demon within her, and it torments her constantly.”
Now, at this point you would think the disciples would knock each other over offering their help, but that’s not how it played out. Instead, they went whining to Jesus saying, “Tell her to get going, for she is bothering us with all her begging.” Really? ‘Tell her to get lost, for she is bothering us with all her begging.’ I mean, what has gotten into these guys? And then, to make matters worse, Jesus appeared to join in on the snub by ignoring her. Saying simply, “I was sent to help the Jews—the lost sheep of Israel—not the Gentiles.” The woman was a Canaanite and not Jewish, so this insult must have hurt, but she persisted: *vs 25) “But she came and worshiped him and pled again, “Sir, help me!” she said. And here’s where things get interesting because instead of acting out of compassion by helping this poor non Jewish woman, Jesus only insults her again, saying, “It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs,”
At this point, I think that if I had been this woman I might have replied saying something like, “Yeah, and you can go take a flying leap off a tall bridge.” But she didn’t. Instead, when Jesus told her, “It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs,” she answered back (and I love this part) Oh yes, it is! Yes it is” and she could have just as easily quoted Isaiah, but instead she said, “for even the puppies beneath the table are permitted to eat the crumbs that fall.”
“As for the gentiles, I will bring them also to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and make them full of joy within my House of Prayer.” Jesus knew this woman’s heart. He knew the depth of her faith in devotion. What a great example to put before the disciples who only moments before had dismissed her as simply “Not our kind of people.”
Some years ago, our church sponsored me to attend a huge event called the Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, Tennessee, which consisted of three days of preaching, lectures, and seminars by church leaders from all across the country. I especially remember a talk given by a pastor of a predominantly black church of Houston. The topic was church growth and this pastor was explaining to us how a commitment to small group studies, passionate preaching, and a vibrant music program had increased their attendance far beyond their expectations. They had even attracted a sizable number of college students as well as local residents who had never set foot in a black church. He then described an admin council meeting that was a bit of an eye opener. The church leadership teams had finished the normal business of the meeting And so talk drifted to the topic of how wonderful it was to have a full sanctuary once again. Most everyone smiled and nodded in agreement; that is until finally one person spoke up. “Pastor.” he said.” I agree that this has been a great moment in the history of our church. But there is one thing: I’ve noticed that a lot of these new people coming in are white people. My question is, what are we going to do about that?”
Now, you can about imagine his response reminding them that Jesus took a lot of flak for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors.
And that we are all the same in the eyes of God.
“What are we going to do about that? he said. Why, we’re gonna welcome them with open arms and if that ain’t good enough then I guess we’ll have to open them arms up even bigger.”
And so once again, from Isaiah 56: “56 Be just and fair to all, the Lord God says. Do what’s right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you. 2 Blessed is the man who refuses to work during my Sabbath days of rest, but honors them; and blessed is the man who checks himself from doing wrong. (8) For the Lord God who brings back the outcasts of Israel says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
So I ask you, who is it that we call our kind of people? Are they gay or straight or covered with tattoos from head to toe? Are they domineering or meek, wealthy or flat broke, introvert or the life of the party? I would suggest that they are all these things and much more. But it seems to me that the lesson we can learn from this Canaanite woman who lived on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea is that our kind of people will always be our brothers and sisters in Christ who never hesitate to come before the table of grace and remain forever grateful for the crumbs that may fall.
Amen and Shalom