August 16, 2020

“Spilled Out”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 56.1, 6-8

Matthew 15.10-28

August 16, 2020

Both our passages for today need some context, as we usually do when we look at a text. Often in our Gospel reading the main passage focused on is the latter part with Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Yet, the first part is considered “optional” in lectionary. In the first half of the reading we know Jesus tells the crowd who has gathered around him that it is not what goes in a person that defiles them, but what comes out of them. In the middle of a health pandemic, we’re very aware of what goes into our bodies, attempting to keep the virus out. In a racism pandemic, we are thinking more about the words coming out of our mouths. This passage can remind us of our reactions and responses and words in the world.

I recently read a tongue and cheek newsletter article – the best kind, in my opinion. It was written by a Lutheran pastor. The purpose of the article was to talk about whether we should fear the Coronavirus if we have faith in God. He gave a great example in this article that has stuck with me as an illustration of how we respond to the happenings of the world. Say you have a cup of coffee in your hand, and someone bumps into you, and you spill your coffee all over yourself. Why, the pastor asks, did you spill your coffee? Most of us would probably answer: “Because someone bumped into me!” Yet, he argues that you spilled coffee because you had coffee in your cup. If you had tea in your cup, you would have spilled tea. If you had wine in your cup, you would have spilled wine. He says the same for what is in our hearts. We might say our reactions right now are because of COVID, or the protests in the world, but really, what is coming out of us is what is in our hearts, what is in our cups. Someone would have bumped into us eventually. If a pandemic hadn’t hit, maybe a natural disaster or some other tragedy. Life is always happening, and regardless, the bump is coming, but what is in our heart, and how does it come out when we meet the bumps in the road?

If our response is anxiety, that anxiety was probably already in our hearts. If it is calm, the same. If it is concern or love or struggling, it causes all of those to come out. We are asked to look within and ask ourselves what is just on the surface and what is weighing deep on our hearts. Jesus says it is not what goes in – this isn’t about COVID (although, let’s try not to let that in, either), but our response. It isn’t the hurricane, but how a community responds to the disaster. It isn’t the other person’s response, but yours, mine, ours together as a community. What is coming from the heart? That is what makes or breaks.

I find it interesting that Jesus is alluding to responses when he gives a very difficult response to the Canaanite woman later in the text. This is one of my favorite passages because this woman is so persistent, and so gentle. Jesus is on his way and this woman asks for healing for her daughter. She’s an outsider because of where she is from. Jesus acknowledges her as such, reminding her of her place in society. He sideswipes by calling her a dog – not even a nice name in biblical times. Is he testing her? Does he know she will be persistent and wants to see her faith in action? Or is he exhausted from preaching and teaching and healing and his human side begins to show?

We do not know, but we do see this woman be persistent. She knows this is her last chance. She knows it is her daughter’s last chance. Her heart is filled with love for her daughter, and she does not care what others think of her as she approaches Jesus and essentially says, “Fine, call me a dog, but then give me at least what the dogs receive.” Jesus does that – he listens and grants her wish, heals the daughter, and welcomes her through his healing. He not only heals the girl but also the division that kept this woman outside the circle.

I really enjoyed reading Jill Duffield’s interpretation of this passage in her weekly lectionary blog. She said that as she looks at the world today she asks herself: “WWTCWD” or “What would the Canaanite woman do?” She proposes some scenarios: “What would the Canaanite woman do about families with no health insurance? What would the Canaanite woman do about the children lost to gun violence? What would the Canaanite woman do about the impending eviction crisis? What would the Canaanite woman do about the crushing student debt? Mass incarceration? The fact that black families have one tenth the median net worth that white families have?”[1] How would she respond? I think we know the answer, knowing that her heart is full of persistence and love, pouring out to those around her.

The passage from Isaiah tells of God welcoming outsiders and it portrays the wideness of God’s love and salvation. God tells them to “maintain justice.” How do we maintain when it seems like so much in need of justice is out of control? The Hebrew word here is to “keep watch.” To be diligent for justice. I’d say the Canaanite woman was diligent for justice.

God is speaking to the exiles in Isaiah’s time. They are slowly returning to their homeland. God is reminding them that things will not be the same as they remember before the exile.[2] They cannot go back to the way life was before they were sent away. When they return their homes are occupied, the economy isn’t doing well, and now there are more cultures and practices that they simply are not familiar with – causing a clash of cultures for some.[3] This is something new and it is all an adjustment. Sound familiar? The context we need here is from verses 2-5. In those passages, which are removed from lectionary for some reason, God is talking specifically about welcoming foreigners and eunuchs. God is intentionally welcoming outsiders.

The idea is that whoever is keeping covenant – even those previously excluded – can be part of the faith community. Sabbath is very important, and Sabbath must be kept as part of this community. This is not just to keep a day off for rest, but resting with God. Also, if we think about outsiders, what sort of Sabbath do they have, or are able to take? For those who are economically disadvantaged, Sabbath is a dream. For those who work multiple jobs they do not have the privilege to take time off and have a Sabbath. For those who can, we are called to help create a sacred space of Sabbath and maintain justice.

When we do that, the space that we worship in can be a house of prayer for all people. That is when we see what is in our hearts, in our cups, and we can spill the love of God everywhere, to everyone that we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: A, (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 404.

[3] David Maxwell, “Isaiah 56” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 3, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 338.