A Determined Woman With a Divine Plan

Psalm 133; Matthew 15:21-28

Sermon preached Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here we find Jesus, praising a mouthy woman! The nice way to put it would be to call this Canaanite woman “The Queen of Determination.” And she was about as welcome in Jesus’ presence as an Atlanta Falcons fan in WhoDat Nation.

This Canaanite woman was no longer content to stay in her place, to get what she got, and to live the way she had always lived. She was determined to get what she deserved. And somewhere along the way, she had ditched her lady-like voice and the pleasantries of polite conversation.

She came to Jesus — SHOUTING. “The Bible tells me so.”

And Jesus’ response:  Nothing. Nada. “He did not reply to a word she said.”

Jesus’ disciples urged Jesus to “Send her away.”  Why? Because they didn’t like her approach. They didn’t like her manner of speech:

“Send her away,” they urged Jesus, “For she keeps shouting after us.”

And then Jesus explains that he has a good reason to ignore her:

She’s not one of us.
She’s not on my agenda.
She doesn’t fit the profile of the people in my mission statement.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Is this the Jesus we thought we knew?
What a friend we have in Jesus — unless you are a Canaanite woman. Amazing grace — but not for her people.

A woman from the wrong side of the tracks with a problem— a child who was sick.

Jesus was a healer, but he couldn’t be expected to heal EVERYONE, could he? You gotta draw the line somewhere, and Jesus left her out. That should have been that, except for this determined woman:

Why NOT her child?

She even tried begging,  And that got her an insult: “It isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus schooled her: “Some are God’s children. You, woman, are a dog.”

We would expect her to give up.
We would expect her to accept what her master has decreed.

“You are not worthy” Jesus told her. “Giving you what you need would rob someone else who deserves it more than you.”

What is an appropriate response to this “No”?

We have learned that it is godly to accept that prayers sometimes are answered “No.”
We have been taught that to be Christian- to be Jesus’ followers- is to be self-sacrificing, slow to anger, always loving others.
We have been taught—somehow— that to be people of faith somehow requires us to be happy — never negative— which means never confronting, never resisting what someone else says is “best” or “true” — never questioning the way things are or have always been

Relax, they are looking after your best interests.

And, then, some well-meaning soul will come up and tell you to “smile.”  I ask you: Do men get told — to smile?

The Canaanite woman did not smile, she did not get all happy, or feel good about her child who was suffering. She was not willing to give up on her child so that there might be enough for the children of Israel.

She stepped out of her stereotype and out of her lady-like-ness.
She did not take “No” for an answer without a challenge to Jesus.
She twisted what he said to her advantage.

“Hey, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.”

She changed Jesus’ mind. And she’s the only one who ever did.

And Jesus declares that she has great faith — the only person — male or female — that Jesus says has great faith in all of the Gospel of Matthew.

Well ….could it be… .?

That great faith is something other than the passive, positive-attitude, wishful thinking we often call faith? In this only example of great faith in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus rewards a great faith that is spirited, articulate, shall we say … feisty.
Great faith that is unwilling to accept the appearance of peace and harmony when it is actually a cheap imitation of truth and justice.
Great faith that wants a piece of the shalom peace that the Jesus way is all about.

Please notice: Her great faith was not about believing in God — or following Jesus. Her great faith did not, as far as we know, result in her accepting Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.

She wanted her daughter to live — healed and whole — and she had enough FAITH to take ACTION to make THAT system work for her.

And so — yes — preaching gets political right here because this is very much a political story. This story places Jesus in a particular geographic political area — “the district of Tyre and Sidon” — and has him talking to a Canaanite woman.  They are crossing uncrossable lines — breaking social and political taboos. Men and women didn’t converse. Women did not initiate anything in that society.  He was from the dominant culture; she was a Canaanite woman. This conversation was unsanctioned, some might even say illegal.

The Bible clearly lifts up what is political.
The reality of who is “in” and who is “out” is political.
The reality of who gets health care and who doesn’t is political.
The reality of the children who get left behind by the system is political.
The reality of whose children are near death — or dead — because of the system — is political.

The Bible is the master text for revealing how the personal is political and the political is personal.

We can spiritualize this story all we want, but the realities are very much political.  

We live in a world where it matters who is making the laws.
It matters who is enforcing the laws.
It matters what “district” you live in; you will be judged by your address. Your streets will be fixed or not; you will have basic services available or not; your emergency will be responded to or not.
It matters — in 2014 — who you are, what is your label, what side of the tracks you live on, and — yes — it STILL matters if you are seen as white, black, Muslim, or of Latin American origin.

We would have to be blind not to see that.

Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer kills a black person, according to the most recent statistics.  There are 96 times a year that a white officer kills a black person, about a fourth of the at least 400 police killings a year.  To make it worse, this data “has long been considered flawed and largely incomplete.”  Not all police departments participate so the database undercounts the actual number of deaths. (USA Today, Aug. 15, 2014 — Johnson, Hoyer, Heath)

And, you know, If there is anything worse than being a statistic, it would be not even being a statistic because you weren’t counted.

So, yeah, there is anger in Ferguson, Misssouri over the white police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr., an unarmed black 18 year old whose wounds went unattended and whose young body was left lying in the street for too long. “Big Mike’s” family has been questioned and judged publicly, and the police officer is nowhere to be found, last I heard.

And there is not nearly enough outrage outside of Dayton, OH, where John Crawford III was shot and killed by white police as he was holding a toy gun in a Walmart store. A couple in the store was alarmed when they saw Crawford walking with the air pump gun and called 911 to report him.  Where are those second amendment loving, open carry advocates who could be standing with his family?

Remember unarmed black man Eric Garner, begging for his life — “I can’t breathe” — killed in a choke hold by New York City police for suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes.

Remember Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant … Trayvon Martin … ?

Meanwhile Gaza … Syria … Mexico … Iraq … Somalia …

And, today, and every day: 20,000 children around the world will die from poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes.

The way “the system” runs — well, it works really well for some and deals death to others.  

It all depends on whether it’s your baby or not.

Children have no voice, and every person is someone’s baby at every age.

Jesus said — in the beginning — to the Canaanite woman: “This is no child of mine.” And this unnamed woman had a different plan — a divine plan — THE divine plan, as a matter of fact:

It begins with “God so loved the World …” regardless …
“God so loved” without ifs, ands. or buts. (Jn.3:16)

The divine plan revealed that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female …” no exclusions — regardless. (Gal.3:28)

They got together from all kinds of places and “they heard, each in their own language” unified by communication and understanding. (Acts 2:8)

Another time when the crowd threatened to get unruly, they sat down and had a picnic with basketfuls left over. (Mt.14:13-21)

That’s the divine plan.  She convinced Jesus. Later he was heard to pass along her wisdom about the divine plan: “Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt. 19:14)

In other words: The Divine Plan is ALL the people, ONE, Whole, each and every face visible in the picture, each and every life somebody’s baby, and therefore, each baby is my baby, your baby, our baby.

So, let me ask YOU — beloved urban New Orleans, multi-racial, multi-cultural open and affirming amazing in so many ways — CHURCH:

Who’s your baby?

Where is she hurting?

And what are you going to do about it?  

Amen.

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