The image on the front cover of your bulletin today from the UCC says, “Bold Moves,” because both of our readings this morning from both the Old Testament and the New Testament are about biblical characters who made bold moves.
So the first scripture reading from Genesis, which Reverend Fred read for us, was the famous story of Joseph and his brothers – how Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. But Joseph remains bold and persistent in his faith. He trusts in God, and he doesn't give up.
Now, most of you are familiar with that story of Joseph and his brothers, because of the very popular 20th century musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And that's why Peter Black played for his Prelude this morning, the song Close Every Door, which is from that musical.
But I think the New Testament reading that I read for you this morning may be a new one for some of you. I found that most pastors don't tend to talk about this story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman very much, because in it, Jesus is kind of a jerk.
This woman comes to him in great need. Her daughter is, in the vernacular of their day, tormented by a demon. Now, I've shared with you before, when we read this in the Bible, it doesn't mean that someone is being possessed by a red guy with horns and a pitchfork, Okay?The ancient people obviously did not understand lots of illnesses, especially mental illnesses. They didn't understand how they were caused. So they said the person was possessed by a demon. But she comes to Jesus in great need, “My daughter needs help, please help me!”
And you see that Jesus dismisses her. He waves his hand and says, “Get away from me woman.”
But the woman makes a bold move. She's persistent, she keeps following him. It was a very bold move for a woman to speak back to a man in Jesus's day. And it was a very bold move for a Canaanite, a non-Jewish person to speak back to a Jewish person.
So she pursues Jesus, and Jesus says, “I haven't come for you. I have only come for the children of Israel.”
You're not You're not a Jew. I haven't come for you. And then he really insults her. He says, “Why would I take this spiritual food that is meant for the children of Israel, and give it to a dog?”
Now, I know that we love our dogs today. But during Jesus's day, dogs were not kept as pets. They roamed the streets, and the Jewish people considered them to be very dirty and unclean. So to call someone a dog was a great insult.
So you can see why a lot of pastors don't want to talk about this story. Because Jesus is so cruel, and rude, and dismissive. Why is he doing that? This isn't the loving, compassionate Jesus that we're used to seeing.
Well, some theologians have speculated that Jesus is doing this merely to test the woman. He wants to see how strong her faith is. But I tend to agree with what Reverend Ed Townley said in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, that Jesus wasn't perfect. He made mistakes.
Now, I know some Christians think that Jesus was perfect, that from the time he was born a baby in the manger, he was without sin. He couldn't make any mistakes, and he knew he was the son of God from when he was a baby.
But Reverend Townley says the Gospels only make sense if we see a Jesus who is learning more and more about his divine nature as his ministry unfolds. So yes, in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, at that point in his spiritual understanding about himself and his ministry, he thought it was only for Jewish males. But because of her boldness and persistence, Jesus himself has a change of heart and mind.
Because if you keep reading the gospels after this story, Jesus shows much more kindness and compassion to people who aren't Jewish, and especially to women. So because of the boldness of this woman, Jesus is transformed, comes to a greater understanding.
I don't know about you, but I love that Jesus is fully human, that he made mistakes. We see him in the gospels, showing fear, showing anger. I like that because it makes me know that he understands everything that I'm going through, because he lives it himself as a human being.
One of my favorite contemporary Christian writers, is Anne Lamott. If you haven't read any of her books, I highly recommend that you do. But in one of her books, Anne Lamott says this, “God sent Jesus to join the human experience, which means to make a lot of mistakes. Jesus didn't arrive here, knowing everything. He had to learn how to walk. He had fingers and toes, confusion, sexual feelings, crazy human internal pressures. He had the same prejudices as the rest of his tribe. He had to learn that the Canaanite woman was a person. He had to suffer the hardships and the tedium and the setbacks, of being a regular person. If he hadn't, the incarnation would mean nothing.”
Jesus made mistakes, and he had the same prejudices, as the people of his tribe. Jesus was a Jewish male. And so yes, he was raised thinking that people who were not Jewish, and that women, were people who were less than. But through his experience with the Canaanite woman, and with others, he begins to have a change of mind and heart and to understand more fully who he is, and what his mission and ministry will be.
So not only does he experience a transformation, but of course, the Canaanite woman also experiences a transformation and healing, because her daughter is healed. But notice in the story, Jesus didn't say, woman because of your persistence, I have healed your daughter. He doesn't take credit for the healing. In fact, never in the gospels, when someone is healed does Jesus ever take credit for it.
He says just what he says to the Canaanite woman, he always says, “Your faith has made you well.” “Your belief has made you whole.” “It shall be done to you as you believe.”
So the same is true for us. If we want to experience healing and transformation in our own lives, it's done to us as we believe. It's all about the power of our faith, of our belief, of our thinking.
Now, I know if you've been treated like the Canaanite woman, if you are right now feeling like you're not being heard, people are not listening to you, you feel like you've been dismissed, that people are talking down to you, that you're invisible. Or if you're experiencing that someone in your family right now is going through a health crisis… It's difficult when you're feeling that way to have the belief that miracles are on their way. It's hard to remain persistent and bold in faith when you're feeling that way.
But that's why prayer is so important. It's why I talk almost every single Sunday about the importance of prayer. I've shared with you before I call the chair where I meditate each day, my Recharging Station because you know how your phone when it's getting depleted and the bars are getting smaller, you've got to plug it into the power? That's how I feel about that chair. When I'm feeling depleted, when I'm feeling hopeless, when I'm feeling unheard and hurt, I can sit in that chair and I can be filled with the power and the presence of God.
So I'm so grateful for prayer in my life. But I'm also grateful to be a part of a spiritual community such as this, for when I'm feeling depleted in my faith, when I am finding it hard to believe, to find the courage to be bold, you lift me up, you give me that strength and courage that I need.
Prayer and spiritual community are such a big part of our spiritual lives. And so my friends, I would like to invite you this week, to find time to plug in to the power of your belief, to believe more fully in God, in one another, and in yourself.
And I'm going to leave you with the words from First Corinthians 16, verse 13, it says, “Be strong. Be bold, be courageous, stand firm in faith, and in everything you do. Do it with great love.”
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Rev. Ed Townley
Many traditional Christians believe that Jesus was always the same throughout his human incarnation—always loving, always perfect, always fully aware of his role as the Christ of God in expression. In fact, though, the Gospels only make sense if we understand that they show us a Jesus who learned more about his divine nature as his ministry unfolded—a Jesus who was as fully human as the rest of us, which means capable of error, and of learning from those errors how to more fully express the Christ. In today’s gospel story, Jesus does indeed, at first, refuse to help the Canaanite (non-Jewish) woman whose daughter is troubled. At that point, his understanding of his own spiritual purpose is that he is to confine his ministry to his fellow Jews. However, the mother's persistence forces him to see things differently. He realizes that she is right, and he is wrong. Or rather, that he is limiting his own spiritual power unnecessarily. From that point on, he no longer worries about whether the people seeking his help are Jews or not. He realizes that they are all children of God, and that is enough. God is not a being who picks and chooses which people to love. God is the very Power of infinite, eternal Love. If it is ever denied or withheld, it's because we're doing that—not because God is.
What did you think?