August 18, 2002

Matthew 15:10-28

[Jesus] then called the crowd together and said, "Listen, and take this to heart. it's not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up."

Later his disciples came and told him, "Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?"

Jesus shrugged it off. "Every tree that wasn't planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch."

Peter said, "I don't get it. Put it in plain language."

Jesus replied, "You too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don't you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated. But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It's from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That's what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands -- that's neither here nor there."

From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, "Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit."

Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, "Now she's bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She's driving us crazy"

Jesus refused, telling them, "I've got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel."

Then the woman came back to Jesus, went to her knees and begged. "Master, help me."

He said, "It's not right to take bread out of children's mouths and throw it to dogs."

She was quick: "You're right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master's table."

Jesus gave in. "Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!" Right then her daughter became well.

[The Message ]


1. There is some truth to the reality of what comes into us can defile us. America, the land of the obese, knows this reality. Everyone knows it about their own cultural icons. The institutions we all deal with collectively set a tone for where spirit is valued.

But all these influences that bombard us day and night are not determinants. We yet can learn and choose rather than just react.

Much harder to deal with, but yet open to new life, are the validating responses we make. If we respond to the openness of GOD's love, we validate that. If we respond to the consumer drive of our culture, we validate that. If we respond to belittling jokes, we validate that.

What comes out of us completes a circuit. The longer the circuit runs the deep rut it makes and the more difficult it is to break free from without major conversion events.

The coming in part is simply present, what we do with it in response is crucial to our joy in life. Do we conspire with institutional racism and sweatshops? Do we conspire with divisions and brokennesses of all kinds? Do with conspire with rigid rules for the benefit of the present rulers?

2. If Jesus is correct about the internal response being key to the fullness of life, what are we to make about his going on to miss that response from a Canaanite woman? Do we want to posit a testing Jesus that pushes us to our creative limits? Do we find some excuse for Jesus' not paying attention to the first part of this reading?

It is not easy to put a uniform and consistent Jesus into both the fore and aft of this reading. Perhaps that attempt is less helpful than trying to see in both stories how the same points are covered in entirely different fashions.

3. Is the difficulty or slowness of Jesus responding to a need for mercy an issue of the woman's foreignness? femaleness? pleading? shouting? persistence? or Jesus' learning? teaching style? being out of his usual haunts?

If the woman had not kept after her need and been a witty conversationalist would Jesus keep healing from a little girl? Something is going on here that needs deep contemplation. Something here is beyond our usual explanations. Let's not talk "faith" too quickly here.

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