230820 Pentecost 12 Baptism Genesis cx45:1-15 Psalm 133 Romans 11:13-32 Matthew 15:21-28
+ In the name of God, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Amen
Christians who belong to a congregation can sometimes think of themselves as privileged, but Saint Paul reminds us "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." (Romans 12:3) We always need to remember that no matter what, God loves his people and wants only good for all of us. When our lives go pear-shape we need to be aware of God's presence with us and live in faith and trust.
In the Old Testament story, we find that the evil actions of Joseph's brothers, who sold him as a slave to get rid of him because they were jealous of him, were used by God to fulfil his ultimate plan of salvation. He sent Joseph ahead to preserve their lives from famine, to save Egypt from famine, and prepare the way for the beginning of the nation of Israel. Joseph makes himself known to his brothers and there is joy in the reconciliation. From this we are reminded that God is sovereign, and his plans are not dictated by human actions.
David, in writing the words of the psalm speaks of the joy of harmonious relationships. That unity is good and lovely. In family relationships unity is important because it makes all of us positive examples to others and helps us live together as God means us to live and gives us a foretaste of life in heaven.
In Baptism we begin our journey as a member of the Family of Christ This does not mean we agree on everything, but there will be many opinions, just as there are many notes in a musical chord, and all have a part and place of value.
Godparents making promises on behalf of their God child will be asked "Do you repent of your sins?" This is like seeing a road sign that says WRONG WAY! GO BACK! Repenting means stop doing things that hurt God, hurt people, hurt our environment and hurt ourselves. When we stop and take a better way, we live differently, and God lives with us. We maintain justice and do what is right.
In Baptism we are marked with the sign of the Cross as members of Christ's body and the promises of God are sealed for us. This can be thought of as a microchip if you like. It cannot be seen, but the mark is there, and it is permanent. As we grow and learn to have God as our Friend, we learn to trust, and to listen to the Spirit of God in our heart and mind. Trust in God gives us confidence to know who we are, and confidence ask for what we need.
When we think about the story of the Canaanite woman, we realise that God's love, grace and unlimited support is available for all of us, no matter who we are.
Many people have struggled with the seemingly cold and aloof attitude of Jesus when speaking with this woman who would not give up, supposing that he is testing her faith.
I prefer to believe that Jesus knows her faith. That is why she is there. I think that Jesus wants her faith and its strength to be shown to all who will listen and to celebrate this faith which is so much in contrast with the faith of many of his obvious followers at the time. Jesus' encounter with this Gentile woman in Phoenicia adds spice and significance to his ministry among the Gentiles while it plays with the word "dog"
The story is told in both Matthew and Mark, and in Mark's version begins with the bland sounding words. "He entered a house" (Mark 7:24) It could have been said that Jesus has gone to the dogs!" By common Jewish description, Gentiles were "Dogs". And this Greek, Syrian-Phoenician woman who has a traumatised daughter has three strikes against her. Her race, her heritage of a history of conflict with the Jews and her immediate need of healing for her mentally traumatised daughter.
Jesus's exchange with her is classic. He baits her by suggesting that "It is not fair to take the children's food, the covenantal priority of the Jews, and throw it to the dogs – the Gentiles. She unhesitatingly acknowledged her second-class status, then added that she would settle for some covenantal "crumbs". She will gladly "dive into the rubbish bin to provide food for her daughter" and Jesus shows that he is thoroughly aware of her humility, and faith.
When we watch Jesus at work, we notice that this woman in need is another example of people of faith in the gospels. We think of the Centurian who asked on behalf of his servant, (Matthew 9: 5-10), the good Samaritan who helped the traveller left for dead on the road, and the tax gatherer who followed him, people whose faith and honesty is an example and a revelation to those around Jesus and to us who read the gospel. Jesus' followers think they have rights, but this woman recognises that she has no rights, no claim on Jesus, but she knows she has faith, and this gives her courage. She has to depend solely on his mercy and is completely willing to do so.
We realise that with Jesus there are no favoured ones, but all are equally favoured, and where there is such faith there are no barriers of religion, race and culture. The relationship of faith between this concerned and feisty mother and Jesus means that she is showered with the same abundant gifts as those that God has bestowed on all people who trust in him, and her daughter is healed.
In Baptism, the Spirit of Jesus is sent into our hearts through the grace of God. This gives us freedom to live our lives as children of God, with justice and faith and the courage to always do what is right, and to trust God.
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan tssf
Canon Pastor, Grafton Cathedral