Kenora Proper – Ordinary 20A Pentecost + 11 Trinity + 10
16 August 2020
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: 10-28
Holy One of Israel, covenant-keeper, you gather in what has been rejected, restoring what is lost and healing what is wounded. Give us faith to speak out boldly, so that the outcast may be welcomed and all may be blessed. Amen.
Jesus tells us: “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Mt 15:10b-11)
If you pause to think about it, so much of our lives are dedicated to the idea of eating properly, to understand the dietary and metabolic effect of what it is that we put into our mouths, our bodies.
In fact, I think the quantity of diet plans, vegetarianism, veganism, paleo diet, south beach diet, the debate of high proteins vs high grains, and the list goes on, and on! And each one, as it emerges touts itself as “THE WAY” to live.
When I was growing up, vegetarianism was a life choice and it was the idea of organic sourcing of meats and vegetables, those raised up without growth hormones, without pesticides that are harmful to the environment, and without an overdose of antibiotics was the dietary concern of the day.
But that’s not what Jesus is getting at, here, today. After all, anyone who reads all of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible is familiar with the idea if not the implementation of the dietary regulations of Judaism.
And once again, this isn’t what Jesus is talking about, today.
Rather he’s addressing the overwhelming need of society to gossip, to talk about ‘So & So’ behind their back, to look down their nose at a fellow member of the human race, to bully our fellows, and decide or make decisions on their behalf based on what our eyes tell us about them, instead of treating everyone as brothers and sisters, as equals before the throne of God.
Without intentionally looking at absolutely everyone through the lens that we are equal before God, then we see them through the eyes of our perceptions, and our ambitions. And history is pretty ugly with such ambitions and perceptions colouring our vision.
Such decrees as whether or not women were considered human, or even the indigenous peoples of most of the world who don’t lean back on European origins, the question of the day was whether or not they have a soul dominated philosophical discussions, and at the time both women and the indigenous came out on the short end of that debate. Its how the world was conquered, how such things as the Doctrine of Discovery was able to be enacted, and how it still impacts our politics and societal perceptions at every level, today.
And a good example of this is the movie “Last Holiday”, starring Queen Latifah. It’s about a woman who, upon being told she only has three weeks to live, decides she’s going to take her ideal holiday with the aim of ‘blowing’ her life savings.
So, she enjoys first class travel, she books into the presidential suite at her dream hotel, and she walks into the nearest boutique and asks them to “make [her] international!”
Because this is her last hurrah and she plans to enjoy absolutely every aspect of it, she displays a ‘joie de vivre’, a joy of life to knock all of her new acquaintances on their rear ends.
In the end, one of these ‘new friends’ discovers that she’s been a sales clerk in one of his department stores, and shares this information in a mocking and derisive manner with their group, pointing out that they only listened to her, and her advice because they “thought that she was somebody.”
Now through all of this, this quiet, reserved woman, who had been waiting, all her life, for life to begin, has enjoyed absolutely every experience. She’s lived, for this week, not shying away from new experiences or challenges.
In addition, she’s not misrepresented herself or done anything other than tell the truth, as she sees it, to those around her.
The fact that she’s ‘only’ a sales clerk, with a modest income, seems to be an inseparable void to the gentleman offering the toast, and he calls her an “imposter.”
And when we look at each other across such artificially constructed social chasms of who is worthy of our time and attention and who isn’t based on their bank balance and realms of influence, then we see the kind of reaction that Jesus is talking about, that we see in the movie the Last Holiday.
Jesus starts this revelation with the words “Listen and understand:” (Mt 15:10b)
This isn’t a parable. This isn’t a test on the correct interpretation and application of Mosaic law, rather this is intentionally seeing the Princes of this world on equal footing as the Paupers, and vice versa.
And the very human response, recorded in today’s gospel is when “the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said” (Mt 15:12)
But for as much as Jesus points out that it is up to each one of us to be responsible for what comes out of our mouths, then this is my problem, not the problem of the person or people with whom I’m facing, speaking, working, and getting to know.
At the same time, I need to be aware that (I hope) you’re listening to me and to what I say, and what I share through social media is interpreted by you as if it comes out of my mouth.
We live in a world where people look for evidence that we are either scoundrels or just plain bad people instead of wanting to believe the good in each other.
The Pharisees, in today’s gospel, are offended by what Jesus is saying because they’re the self-imposed monitors of who’s maintaining regulations of hand washing, and quite probably as we’re singing “Happy birthday” to our selves, twice, in the process of washing our hands, they’re watching as we are doing the same to make sure we’re doing it ‘right’.
They’re watching to see that we’re doing it long enough, that we haven’t forgotten to scrub around our thumbs, between our fingers, or even around the nailbeds.
They’re offended because they probably have stocks in the local soap or hand sanitizer companies, and they also do their darndest to not break the Mosaic laws, regarding the dietary code of the Jewish people themselves, and they have that same expectation for each one of us, as well.
And that is such a small window through which to define the actions, the behaviour, or the lunch habits of the person sitting next to you, much less that kid across the playground who just rubs you the wrong way.
Normally when we consider today’s gospel passage, we just jump to the part about the Canaanite woman begging Jesus to help her, to help her daughter; and that’s a tough enough text on its own. The gospel tells us: “22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Mt 15:22)
But, what if we look at it through the lens of what Jesus has said about what comes out of our mouths that has the ability to make us unclean? That has the ability to be a whole different view, doesn’t it?
When Peter asks for an explanation, Jesus tells us: “17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”” (Mt 15:17-20)
Now things get sticky because it appears that Jesus does what he’s accused of doing – looking only at the circumstances, the skin colour, the unwashed hands, the gender of the petitioner instead of at the woman whose daughter, without Jesus intervention, has absolutely no hope for a future.
We see a woman who has no concerns for herself, but looks for hope for her daughter’s future, and it shows in her responses to Jesus, in the gospel, today.
“25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Mt 15:25-28)
But this is Jesus, and he has lessons for us, at every turn.
He points out to us that the problem isn’t in our diet, it’s not in our response to the Covid restrictions and guidelines rather it’s in our hearts, in our intentions, in the way we speak and live and provide an example for all those who are around us and who, whether they know it or not, follow our examples.
He points out that what comes out of our mouths is more often curse than blessing, its more often trash than treasure, and we need to strive to reverse that, to be the positive reinforcement in today’s era of stress and anxiety.
We’re encouraged to be that voice of love and inclusion in the face of physical distancing and concerns about the continued need to ‘flatten the curve’.
Because “11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Mt 15:11) And really, that’s just not what we intend, nor is it what we want, as we strive to communicate the love of God with more than what comes out of our mouths, rather from what comes out of our hearts.