FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (Matt 15:26). If there is one of Jesus’ sayings that causes me a problem it is this one. Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, who begs him to heal her daughter. At first Jesus appears to ignore her. Then, when she persists, he says that his ministry is to Jews, and she is a foreigner. Race, asylum and migration – our attitudes to those we consider ‘foreigners’ is seldom out of the spotlight at present. What food for thought does this story give us?
If we turn to the first part of Matthew 15 we are, for us at least, in much more comfortable territory; Jesus arguing with the Pharisees over ritual, particularly ritual washing. All spiritual ritual serves a purpose: to teach, illustrate and remind us of greater truths. The problem Jesus encounters time and again is that the ritual takes on a life of its own, and the truth it was intended to illuminate is lost. Jesus contrasts dirty food (which passes through us and on to the sewer) with an unclean heart (which gives rise to all manner of sin) (Matt 15). In the Covid 19 era we might not want to eat with unwashed hands (Matt 15:20) but I hope you get Jesus’ point. Our behaviour stems from our attitudes, not the other way around.
Back to Canaan. It is worth remembering that here Jesus is the foreigner, she is on her home territory; yet she, a local woman, approaches him, a Jewish man. This is a test of faith. She persists, in spite of being ignored, then given the brush off. Persistence pays ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Matt 15: 28) The contrast here is not really between Jew and Gentile, insider or outsider; the contrast is between those who thought they had it all sown up, and the one who knew she had nothing to offer but persistent, humble, trust.
In God’s kingdom it’s not where you come from that matters, but who you are going to, and how. Food for thought?
Rev. Philip Payne
The pew sheet for 16th August is available in the Download section of the website.