Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 17 Aug. 2014, Proper 15
Year A RCL: Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Ecce, quam bonum!
“Oh, how good & pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!”
The Book of Common Prayer uses the Latin I just quoted like a title for today's Psalm (p. 787 ). This Psalm always takes me to the holy mountain where I went to seminary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN. It takes me to the view from the Dining Hall of the green lawn & lush garden the chef planted to provide us fresh veggies. Birds, bunnies, deer & insects enjoy the garden too.
Just beyond the garden sits one of the school's old stone buildings. Above the front door it proclaims in big letters: Ecce quam bonum to remind students & faculty how good it is when we live in unity.
Our Psalm obviously speaks to our lesson from Genesis when Joseph & his brothers, who sold him into slavery, finally live in unity. Perhaps less obvious is how it speaks to Paul's writing in Romans & Jesus' actions in today's Gospel.
In Romans Paul struggles with the tension between God's sovereignty & our human responsibility:1 God's calling Israel as a chosen people, human freedom to live in the unity of God's love, to accept or reject God's love.
How expansive God's love is!
Through Jesus' dying for us, God's love reaches out to all humans – even us Gentiles.
We Gentiles are the dogs Jesus refers to in the Gospel.
Notice: Jesus says plainly “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Only after his work on the Cross & his Resurrection does Jesus send the disciples to every nation. This man is focused on the work he has to do among his people – not the neighborhood dogs.
The disciples want Jesus to say something to that yapping dog of a woman that will send her away. I hear anger in their words, not compassion.
Notice: Jesus responds differently.
How do you respond to a yapping dog?
It's easy to chase the lizard out with a broom, stomp on or squirt insecticide on the spider & roach.
It takes time to hum & be peaceful with them so you can catch them &
The 1st reaction to stomp or chase brings out the creatures' natural defenses. The 2nd transforms the dynamic. It shifts the perspective & the outcome.
The 1st offers more death in the world. The 2nd offers more life.
Jesus didn't come to offer us less death.
Jesus didn't come to offer us less death.
Jesus came for us to have more life.
Jesus demonstrates how to have more life by shifting perspectives & expected outcomes. Among the ways Jesus does this is through compassion. He applies the 3 types of compassion: tender, fierce & mischievous.2 Which type he uses depends on the situation.
We are most familiar with tender compassion, such as when a child falls & skins the knees. You remember Jesus blessing & healing children.
It can sound unsettling to hear compassion can be fierce! Think about how fierce Jesus is when he tells Peter: “Get behind me, Satan” & when he remains silent before Pilate. Fierce is tough love.3 It can be calm & emotionless.4 Fierce compassion has grown beyond anger at injustice, & has become single-minded work to transform life into justice.
We see Jesus use mischievous compassion in the story of the woman caught in adultery. Mischievous, playful compassion, switches things up to change our usual thinking & elicit a new understanding, a new perspective. Jesus doodles in the sand, then suggests: the person without sin in the group should throw the first stone.
He shifts the mob's perspective from following the letter of the law to following the heart of God's love, God's compassion.
Jesus uses mischievous, playful compassion in today's encounter with the woman who wants her daughter healed. The problem is, she is an outsider, not a member of the house of Israel.
So Jesus makes a simple statement: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This gives her an opportunity to speak so he can gain her perspective & see as she sees.
She asks simply: “Lord, help me.” Her body language speaks respect as she kneels down to ask.
Jesus makes a straightforward statement about the work he has to do & its importance. Life is short & he does not have too much time to take food from the mouths of hungry sheep & throw it to dogs.
I wonder if the woman suddenly sees herself in new ways with this playful word picture. I wonder if she sees her life more clearly in a new light – the Light of Christ – so that she responds about being worthy to share the crumbs.
I wonder what the disciples learn from this encounter & how they react to the grace that comes instantly when her daughter is healed because of the mother's faith.
The disciples want to get this dog – this lizard, this roach, this spider of a woman – out of the house of Israel & away from them. Jesus playfully speaks peace so that she can return to where she belongs to do the work God has created her to do on this earth.
God has created you – us – Beloved Brothers & Sisters, to tend this earth & to tend lost sheep where we are. God has created this Body of Christ – this happening place where we live God's love – to work so that all manner of thing shall be well. God calls us to see the needs of God's hungry children here, to offer God's healing grace, & to speak peace to trembling dogs who are lost & hungry for God's love.
Barclay, William. Letter to Romans: The Daily Study Bible. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press. 1971.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 4 Aug. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.
Voyles, Robert J. “The Three Faces of Compassion”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
1 Barclay, William. Letter to Romans: The Daily Study Bible. P. 163.
2 Note: Voyles, Robert J. lists the 3 types, quoting Psychlogist Stephen Gilligan on p. 55 of “The Three Faces of Compassion”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive.
3 Ibid. Voyles. P. 56.
4 Ibid. Voyles. P. 56.