the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
56:1 Thus says the LORD:
Maintain justice,
and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

56:6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him,
to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath,
and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

56:7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

56:8 Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Psalm 67
67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you

67:2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.

67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.

67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

67:7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you

Matthew 15: 21-28

15:21 Jesus left that place and went away ἀναχωρέω (anachōreō) to go backward; to depart, go away, Mt. 2:1; to withdraw, retire, Mt. 9:24Acts 23:1926:31(Cf. 12:15, 14:13) to the district μέρος (meros) a part, portion, division, of a whole, a piece, fragment, a party, faction, allotted portion, μέρη, a local quarter, district, region, of Tyre and Sidon. (Cf. 11:20-24)

15:22 Just then a Canaanite (Syrophoenician -Mark 7:26) The reference to “Canaanite” evokes deeply ingrained national prejudice. Using the term “Canaanite” increased the impact of the story for Matthew’s audience, which was familiar with biblical history. The author of Matthew therefore includes Mark’s story to prove that even Canaanites, those idolatrous people whose wickedness was so great that they were supposed to have been exterminated by the Israelites, could find favour with God if they put their faith in Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel concludes with a commandment to make disciples among the Gentiles (Matt. 28:19).The Canaanites, were the people who lived in the Holy Land before the Israelites got there. Before it was Israel, it was the land of Canaan. But, as the Bible tells it, these indigenous people, these First Nation folks, were subdued and displaced by the invading the armies of Israel. A woman from that region (horion, “boundary,” “border”) came out and started shouting (14:26,30),
“Have mercy on me (9:27 and 20:30), Lord κύριος (kyrios) (Cf. 14:28), Son of David; -“Son of David” is an especially ethno-centric and politically charged messianic title that could hardly have positive connotations for a person of Canaanite ancestry.
my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Matthew 15:23-25 has no parallel in Mark’s version of the Canaanite Woman’s story. Jesus’ unresponsiveness and the disciples’ request to send the woman away heighten the dramatic tension, which in turn increases the impact of the resolution when Jesus broadens his mission scope.

15:23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away,  (Cf. 14:15 for she keeps shouting (14:26,30) after us.”

15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Cf. 10:5-7)“Israel First” (“America First”); “Israel only” (“whites only”)
the use of the name “Israel” (as opposed to “the Jews”) is insider language, more likely to be spoken by someone who identified himself as a part of Israel.

15:25 But she came and knelt (Cf. 14:33) προσκυνέω (proskyneō) to do reverence or homage by kissing the hand; in NT to do reverence or homage by prostration, Mt. 2:281120:20Lk. 4:724:52; to pay divine homage, worship, adore, Mt. 4:10Jn. 4:2021Heb. 1:6; to bow one’s self in adoration, Heb. 11:21 has the implication of humbly submitting like a dog before its master by being down on the ground on all fours and eagerly awaiting the master’s command. before him, saying, “Lord κύριος (kyrios), help me.” (Cf. 14:30)Matthew places the language of the Psalms on the lips of the Canaanite woman.

Compare the woman’s plea with (“Lord, pay attention to helping me!”; Ps. 39:14); (“Arise, Lord, help us!”; Ps.43:27);  (“You, Lord, helped me”; Ps. 85:17); (“Your mercy, Lord, helps me”; Ps. 93:18); and (“Help me, Lord!”; Ps. 108:26). As with her cry to the “Son of David,” it is Matthew’s intention to show that the Gentile woman has a faith in Jesus which he believed the Jews of his day ought to have had.

15:26 He answered, “It is not fair καλός (kalos) beautiful; good, of good quality or disposition; fertile, rich, Mt. 13:823; useful, profitable, Lk. 14:34; καλόν ἐστι[ν], it is profitable, it is well, Mt. 18:89; excellent, choice, select, goodly, Mt. 7:1719; καλόν ἐστι[ν], it is pleasant, delightful, Mt. 17:4; just, full measure, Lk. 6:38; honorable, distinguished, Jas. 2:7; good, possessing moral excellence, worthy, upright, virtuous, Jn. 10:11141 Tim. 4:6; τὸ καλόν, and τὸ καλόν ἔργον, what is good and right, a good deed, rectitude, virtue, Mt. 5:16Rom. 7:1821; right, duty, propriety, Mt. 15:26; benefit, favor, Jn. 10:3233 to take the children’s τέκνον (teknon) a child, a son or daughter, Mt. 2:18Lk. 1:7; pl. descendants, posterity, Mt. 3:9Acts 2:39; child, son, as a term of endearment bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Whereas in the larger Greco-Roman society dogs were often portrayed positively and regarded affectionately as petsthe status of dogs in Jewish sources is much less privileged. Dogs might be kept to guard property, but in first-century Jewish culture dogs had no place in the family home nor where the family ate its meals and is unlikely dignified with a personal name.

15:27 She said, “Yes, Lord κύριος (kyrios), yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ κύριος (kyrios) table.”

15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great μέγας (megas) is your faith! πίστις (pistis) faith, belief, firm persuasion, 2 Cor. 5:7Heb. 11:1; assurance, firm conviction, Rom. 14:23; ground of belief, guarantee, assurance, Acts 17:31; good faith, honesty, integrity, Mt. 23:23Gal. 5:22Tit. 2:10; faithfulness, truthfulness, Rom. 3:3; in NT faith in God and Christ, Mt. 8:10Acts 3:16, et al. freq.; ἡ πίστις, the matter of Gospel faith, Acts 6:7Jude 3(Matt. 8:10,13, 9:29) Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed ἰάομαι (iaomai) to heal, cure, Mt. 8:8Lk. 9:2; met. to heal, spiritually, restore from a state of sin and condemnation, Mt. 13:15Heb. 12:13 instantly. -“in that hour” (Matt. 9:22; 15:28; 17:18).

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

In the passage that immediately precedes this story (15:10-20), Jesus responds to challenges from the scribes and Pharisees by reframing the boundaries of what is clean and unclean.

Today’s story begins with Jesus “backing up” to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon are cities outside the boundaries of Israel –they’re up north, along the coast. This is Gentile territory that Jesus has entered. The people who lived there were not Jews; they did not follow the religion of Israel. They were Gentiles, “pagans”. Jesus has crossed the boundary. He is foreign intruder. This makes his interaction with this local, indigenious woman all the more extraordinary! Jesus is out-of-bounds. For the third time recently he has retreated, again (Cf. 12:15, 14:13) as he has in each of these past two Sunday’s readings. But curiously he has retreated to foreign turf, Tyre & Sidon. Jesus had gone out of his way to the region of Tyre specifically to seek solitude. A more circuitous route toward his destination territory can hardly be imagined, and since the journey took Jesus through Gentile territory it was in violation of his own prohibition against going in the way of the Gentiles (Matt. 10:5).

And just as in these past Sunday’s this particular location is significant. That Matthew has Jesus intentionally detour through foreign territory, is parallel to the Sower sowing seed extravagantly helter-skelter allowing it to fall where it might, or Jesus feeding the 5000+++ in the place of desolation, or Jesus coming to his sea tossed disciples walking on the waters in the midst of blustery storm, as we have witnessed these recent Sunday’s. In each case Matthew is racheting up, heightening, even more, the impact by the unexpected by location. “Mega Faith” (15:28) ought to be found in Israel but instead miraculously sprouts beyond the borders in hostile alien ground! This is a story of remarkable faith in an unexpected place. In Jesus God is constantly entering new territory and breaking boundaries. This God is in the unsettling business of meeting outsiders and granting them not just a crumb, but place at the table.

Identified as a foreigner, still this Canaanite woman has all the appropriate language of a true Israelite. Matthew places the language of the Psalms on the lips of the Canaanite woman.Compare the woman’s plea with (“Lord, pay attention to helping me!”; Ps. 39:14); (“Arise, Lord, help us!”; Ps. 43:27); (“You, Lord, helped me”; Ps. 85:17); (“Your mercy, Lord, helps me”; Ps. 93:18); and (“Help me, Lord!”; Ps. 108:26). As with her cry to the “Son of David,” it is Matthew’s intention to show that the Gentile woman has a faith in Jesus which he believed the Jews of his day ought to have had. She persistently cries out for God’s mercy (the Greek imperfect underscores the repetition, while in her kyrie eleison one is certainly meant to hear the worship language of the faithful). 

On the other side her pleas are matched by the shouts of the disciples, “get rid of her!”, exactly the same words the disciples used (14:15) when suggesting dismissing the hungry exhausted crowds, (in the original Greek their words are an alliterative and ironic echo of the woman’s cry: apolyson).  With dramatic effect the story sets before us a Jesus flanked by two competing choruses: on one side one lone creature crying “kyrie eleison,” and on the other a band of bullies shouting her down with their “apolyson.”

No English translation can capture Matthew’s careful orchestration of the painful choral refrain. “Lord, have mercy,” the dog’s solo bleating cry. “Get rid of her,” the “lost-sheep chorus” barks back in reply.

The Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus seeking a healing miracle for her daughter and He says to her in response, seemingly refusing her request,  that  it is not right to give the children’s food to the dogs.   In the Greek text, you hear a homonym: the Xananaia woman and the kunariois/dogs.  The Latin cognate, caninus, also works as a homonym  in this case. So perhaps Jews found it a humorous homonym when they used either Greek or Latin referring to the Canaanites whom they despised.  In using Greek and Latin the Jews could easily make Canaanite sound like the Greek or Latin word for dogs. In the woman’s answer, that even the dogs (kunaria) eat the crumbs from their masters’ table. She understands & acknowledges the insult, but in accepting the homonyn she wisely banters with Christ when she says, “even dogs aren’t stupid, they know a good thing when they see it. ”  Dogs don’t bite the hand that feeds them.

The Canaanite woman models the most admirable human behaviour, not Jesus. She shows willingness to be vulnerable by seeking help from a longstanding foe whom she knows despises her because of national and racial divisions. She asks for help for her daughter, not for herself. She is persistent in the face of insults and rejection, for her daughter’s sake. The Canaanite woman has the best lines in the story, especially her last one. “Call me dog,” she says, “but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.” She is the clear underdog (pun intended) who wins the prize of highest value for any mother, Jew or despised Canaanite — her child’s health and well-being.

Jesus’ response is so troubling that many interpreters have sought to soften or explain away the clear and direct language of the text. Do our ears deceive us  Jesus now seems to join these “bouncers,” not only refusing to answer her pleas, but even seeming to join in with a few sharp licks of his own.
Wait a minute! Did Jesus just say that!? Did Jesus just call her & her daughter subhuman bitches!? Notice the Canaanite woman doesnt dispute Jesus’ descriptor!  Instead she prostrates herself before Jesus.  The Greek verb is prosekunei.  The same as the disciples “worshipping” Jesus in the boat last Sunday! (14:33) It’s etymology implies that she behaves like a dog crouching at the feet of her master. She physically shows she accepts from the mouth of Jesus the label of being a dog. She is humbling herself, or even humiliating herself before the Lord. As a mother she will do what it takes to get mercy from the master for her daughter.  She lives in a world in which masters and servants were very distinct classes and the subservient knew how to behave in the presence of their superiors. In the eastern Church, the Faithful do such a full prostration during the services of Great Lent –getting down on knees & elbows, bowing completely, touching head to the ground. The Greek implies imitating a begging dog.

The woman, is not deterred. She claims a place in the household, but it is a not a position of privilege or even the position of an insider. She accepts the status of a family’s dog by claiming that even the pet enjoys crumbs from the table. Her statement is striking. She places hope in what others have discarded. This Son of David has so much power that there is enough power for the house of Israel and more than enough left over for her. She is not trying to thwart his mission. She just wants a crumb, recognizing that even a crumb is powerful enough to defeat the demon that has possessed her daughter.
Matthew’s Jesus has elsewhere chastised the “little faith” of these disciples (8:26; 14:31; 16:8), but here, in the only occurrence of this opposite conjoined adjective in the whole New Testament, Jesus praises the “mega faith” of this woman and commands that her plea be granted. And no sooner are the words spoken than it is done. We are told that the woman’s daughter is healed instantly (in contrast Mark’s narrative delays the discovery until the woman returns home; 7:30).  As if in response to this “great faith,” in the verses that follow today’s lesson, Jesus breaks out in healings that amaze the crowds and call forth the praises of God (15:29-31). And her faith has an influence on Jesus personally too!This foreign woman outside the boundaries of faith causes a shift in Jesus. This a story about Jesus being converted by the Canaanite woman’s dogged faith! Former ways of understanding are called into question as mercy calls for a new understanding of God’s ways among us.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi” observes an ancient christian proverb. The (law or) norm of prayer, is the (law or) norm of belief. Or more colloquially, the way we pray indicates what we believe. It refers to the relationship between worship and belief. It confesses that prayer and belief are integral to each other and that liturgy is not separate from theology. (Akin, is the previously noted observation, “If you are a theologian, you will pray. And if you pray, you are a theologian.” -Evagrius Ponticus

A beloved, characteristically Anglican, Cramnerian collect based upon today’s reading prays,

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.

What this prayer confesses (invites us to believe) is that we might presume to trust (not in our own credentials but) in the manifold (that is already revealled, hence reliable) great mercies of a Lord who is constitutively Mercy Itself. This collect invites us to advance confidently presuming based upon God’s indulgent credibility. Now being presumptious isn’t popularly positive. It has a negative tang to it. To presume is to “suppose that something is the case on the basis of probability” or “be audacious enough to do something” or “to take for granted” or “to undertake with unwarrantable boldness” or “to undertake (to do something) without right or permission:to presume to speak for another.” Each & all of these definitions aptly describes the faith/ful foreign woman in today’s gospel.

After Deacon Steve’s homily back in mid-June, one parishioner was disturbed having noted the text, “Jesus sent out these twelve with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (10:5-7). She appropriately, evangelically, didn’t like the limitations Jesus set, “wasn’t the Good News for everybody?”

And that is precisely what that foreign woman presumed too. She dared presume that this God, this Jewish prophet Jesus proclaimed, was as advertised Gracious (Ps. 67:1) & full-of-Mercy (15:22).
She was presumputous because she was accounted alien. She was presumputous because she was she. She had no rights, she was outsider, (outlaw, outside the law). She was outside the parameters. Beyond the pail. She was alien, foreign, “Them.”

We know very well the tendency to define and fear an “other” on the basis of skin colour, nationality, class or creed, deeply ingrained stereotypes that go back generations or even centuries. We resent being bothered by the concerns of those people. We have our own children to care for. When they persist, insisting on equal treatment and justice for their children, we resort to racial slurs and insults. And we are very good at justifying our actions rather than admitting the prejudice that persist.

All the disciples knew, all they needed to know, was that she wasn’t one of their own. And so as far as they were concerned, she was someone else’s problem. There are all sorts of borders, then, separating her from Jesus and his disciples. Borders of gender, of ethnicity, of religion – by all of these measures, she is one of them, not one of us. She is an outsider, an outcaste, an immigrant, a foreigner. But she won’t be shut out. She persists, because she has faith – faith that God’s mercy crosses all boundaries, faith that God has grace enough to spare, faith that even a dog deserves a crumb of compassion. Although we may be separated by much, still we are one at the table. This is what the Canaanite woman affirms, when she asks Jesus for help: that God’s table is open to all. We mistake our tribe for God’s people. Confused we put God on our currency and flags in our sanctuaries. We say “America First” and “God Bless America” in the same breath, as if they meant the same thing.

She crosses over all the boundaries that kept her in her place, and she demands that Jesus do the same. And he does. Jesus calls her a woman of mega faith.

And so she was. She had faith that there was a greater God, a greater love, a greater abundance of grace, than she had been told. Indeed, it is reliably the ones who live outside our own borders, of tribe, of nation, of class, of race, who call us to greater faith. For they persistently remind us, that God is not limited to our own narrow horizons, that God’s table stretches clear around the world, and that there is enough grace there for all.

This story is about Jesus, and in Jesus we see the very best of human potential in relationships with others, even those we avoid and fear. We see in Jesus the possibility of perceiving common humanity where we could see only alienating difference. And when we encounter the “other” as one who shares our humanity, we can never see them as “other” again. The Canaanite woman has the best lines in this story, but Jesus has the last word: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Not “Canaanite woman” but simply “woman.” She will never be defined by national or racial or religious prejudice again. She is now a mother like any other who desperately seeks help for her child. And for this mother’s sake, Jesus heals her daughter. And perhaps Jesus is miraculously healed, too, made more fully complete, more completely himself by an expected, out of place, seed of Faith

Today’s reading(s) invite a reexamination of our hearts and call us to presume a new appraisal of the expansive reach of God’s mercies. The story of the full-of-faith woman who as an outsider experiences God’s mercy challenges a too-narrow tradition that would want to restrict God’s mercies to only a chosen few.

In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Abba Poeman said: ‘We are in such trouble
because we are not taking care of our brother
who the Scripture stipulated we are to take in.
Or do we not see the Canaanite woman who followed the Saviour, crying and beseeching for her daughter to be healed
– and that the Saviour looked with favour on her and healed [her daughter]?’-Poeman in “Give Me a Word”

the Reverend Brian Heinrich