Trinity 10a: Canaan & Charlottesville

 

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

  These words were written not this week or even this year, but in Germany in the late 1930s by the pastor and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The metaphor he chose to describe how he felt he should act in the face of growing evil is frighteningly appropriate even prescient in our current 21C world where cars are literal weapons.

Events in Charlottesville and Barcelona have once more bring to our attention the presence of so much evil and hatred in the world.

They are not events that are “far away” though they may not affect us directly physically, but they are events that affect us, that must cause us to think and consider what our response should be, because not response is still a response;

and as we consider how we deal in our own lives with situations that challenge us, today’s Gospel reading, as so often, speaks to some of these issues.

It’s not an easy passage, either to read or to preach on, and on first encounter  -and particularly in deed in the light of the violence and the language of abuse that we have seen in the last week it maybe is hard to see where Jesus is coming from. This does not sound like the loving inclusive Jesus we know.

Our passage begins with Jesus teaching that it is not what we eat that make us unholy and unclean, but in fact the words and actions that come from us – indicative of the attitudes we hold. What is in our hearts comes out in our speech, what we think of others will be clear in what we say and do.

The disciples come to Jesus and say, “you know Jesus the Pharisees are unhappy, they don’t like what you just said about the food laws…”

I have a mental image of a Life of Brian type scene, with a group of Pharisees muttering at the back of the crowd…

their legalistic clinging to ritual food laws was part of what gave them identity as religious jews, they didn’t want that status and control eroded and I’m sure they didn’t want to be confronted with the reality of what Jesus was saying,

Jesus seems to brush aside the disciples worry about this reaction “every plant not planted by my father will be uprooted” -in other words, God will judge what is of him and what isn’t eventually…

It’s in some ways reassuring, the job of getting worried and upset about what God thinks about people or deciding whether they’re truly following the way of Jesus is not ours,  it is Gods and in his hands,

 

Jesus then moves on to Tyre & Sidon, and encounters the Canaanite woman, gentile, pagan,  an outcast in Jewish society, nevertheless she is begging Jesus for healing for her daughter. Despite being a non-Jew, she recognises in Jesus something of worth, something of God, she calls him Son of David, and in doing so acknowledges who he is. His identity.

His reaction though is puzzling, it’s not the welcoming inclusive Jesus we come to expect.

H says “I  have come only to the lost sheep of Israel”

Which sounds on the face of it rather dismissive,

But is it?

Who are the lost sheep? What is he trying to show here?

As she begs him, things change

He says “is it fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs?” the obvious answer to that is no of course it’s not fair, none of us take the food from our families and feed it to the animals,.. but we need to unpack what Jesus is saying, and to understand some of the language nuances that look like they’re being used here.

Dog would have been an offensive term used of non-Jews but the religious people, but the word Jesus uses is not that word, but a related, much softer one, the word that describes a pet dog or a puppy,  a diminutive word. He refers to an attitude that is familiar, commonplace but in   in doing so he’s twisting things,

He knows this woman would be rejected by those around her, he knows she has probably heard that insult and worse a million times, he knows she is in need, and he wants to show that indeed she too is lost and therefore part of the world that he came to live amongst and save. Perhaps the “lost sheep of Israel” is a much wider category than we or they acknowledged.

Perhaps it can even include neo Nazi’s and all extremists, for no one is beyond forgiveness, and redemption, if they choose to turn from their behaviour.

It appears she picks up on this and says “well even the puppies pick up the scraps from the table”

Jesus then heals her daughter and commends her faith.

She has picked up on the message, you are more valued than you think.

One can only imagine what the Pharisees thought of what was going on.

Perhaps this story following on from the teaching about what comes from a person’s heart illustrates something for us,

This woman was humble, she knew her “place” as a non-jew uncomfortable as that is for us to comprehend, and yet she was welcomed by Jesus as one of his lost sheep, and ministered to.

The Pharisees on the other hand, judged and condemned, and were described by Jesus as blind guides of the blind.

By behaviours and not by labels are our true hearts and our place in Gods Kingdom judged.

This week we have seen people who call themselves Christians act in the vilest and most hate filled ways, and people from all communities, praise God, have spoken out.

We have also seen people who identify as Christian refuse to condemn this hatred,

And we have seen many others, who have risked life and limb to stand against it. There are moving accounts of the clergy on the counter protest line in Charlottesville, kneeling and praying in the fact of abuse, violence and threats.

 

Jesus shows us that his way is a way of justice and inclusion, it is not tribal or boundaried by race or  colour or political allegiance.

Time and again he goes against the conventions of his time, deeply rooted   identities, to show that all are equal, all are loved and included in Gods Kingdom.

He subverts the selfish, prejudiced attitudes and puts himself on the line for those values.

As followers of Jesus we are called to live this way of life too, and to stand against those who will not, especially those who exclude and hate and use the name of Jesus to justify it, This is not the way of the Kingdom.

Silence is not an option

The political philosopher Edmund Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Bonhoeffer echoes this when he says

Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.

 

Our call is to stand against evil and to do it with love for all, such a hard path to walk, but this is the way of Jesus the way of the Cross.

Bonhoeffer again,

Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is no inner discord between private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.

As we seek to follow the way of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Justice, love, peace, may we find the courage to speak out against hatred and evil wherever we find it,   and may we learn to love, as Jesus did, without compromise  or capitulation, even to death itself.

 

 

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