Text study for Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28
Lectionary text for August 14, 2011
I remember three things about the last week of October of 2004. My father was diagnosed with cancer. The senior pastor of the congregation I served resigned. And white supremacists affiliated with the local branch of the Klu Klux Klan burned a cross in the front yard of a home owned by an African American family in a local housing development.
Yes. 2004. In a small town just 35 miles from Philadelphia.
One week later I sat across the table from an 8-year-old boy in a different house in the same housing development. He asked, “Why would someone hate a person based on the color of their skin?” I answered: This kind of hate is taught, often passed down from generation to generation.
In the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we catch a glimpse of another prejudice that was once passed down through the generations.
This text marks the enmity felt between the Israelites and the Canaanites. Scholars disagree on whether Jesus’ use of the word “dog” in reference to the woman was innocent and light-hearted or intended as derogatory and an ethnic slur. Regardless, the woman is first ignored by Jesus, and initially denied her request based on her ethnicity.
I think and hope that Jesus was simply acting out the intentions in the hearts of his followers that day in order to reveal something new to them. I base that hope on what Jesus did after he denied her.
Jesus gave voice to one who was marginalized both as a woman and as a Canaanite. He let her speak. He listened as she publically contradicted his statement that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” as she dared to proclaim that surely God’s grace was at least a little bit bigger than human prejudices would allow.
Jesus agreed with her. God’s grace is larger and wider than we can imagine, and it crosses over the human barriers of hatred and bigotry.
Currently, I live with my two godchildren (ages 5 and 7) and their parents. As I consider this story, I have to think about what these children are learning from me. Do I pass on my own biases? Or am I teaching them of the full scope of God’s love that always reaches beyond my human prejudices?
My hope rests in God’s answer of love — a big, gigantic, tremendously generous love that tears down prejudice and transforms us beyond our human fears and frailties.
How does Christ’s example push you beyond the limits of your human biases and prejudices?
Where do you see God at work in your community, building bridges between people of different backgrounds and faiths?
Who is calling out to be noticed, seen and valued in our world today?
How do you reveal God’s generous and expanding love by your life?
Susan Lynch is the interim pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sumneytown, Pa.