Drawing Circles

August 16, 2020

Matthew 15:10-28

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.  May God add His blessings to our time together under the Word.  Amen.

A poem by Edwin Markham:

“He drew a circle that shut me out-

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!”

A readings for today force me to ask some tough questions:  Who do you let into your inner circle?  Who makes you feel safe?  Who makes you feel unsafe?  Who is “clean,” acceptable?  And one more, who has a clean heart?  How do we get a clean heart?

Our Gospel reading is divided into two part.  The first is where Jesus seems to question and criticize the Pharisees for their tradition of washing their hands before they eat.  This washing is a ceremonial washing that focused on “clean and unclean” thinking.  Once you have gone to the market that is filled with all kinds of different folk these conservative religious followers insisted on washing off the ceremonial uncleanliness.

Our culture has insisted on the washing of hands for the sake of preventing the spreading of germs.  The COVID or “coronavirus” has certainly increased our awareness of the importance of frequently washing our hands.

Jesus is not against washing hands before a meal.  Jesus really isn’t criticizing the Jewish ceremonial washing of hands either.  He is a Jew Himself and probably practiced such customs.  What He is questioning and criticizing is the empty ritual that forgets the principle behind the custom.  If we are really concerned about purity—having a clean heart, soul, mind and body—we need to hear what Jesus is saying.

What you put into your mouth—eat—doesn’t make you unclean.  It is what comes out of your mouth from your mind and heart that makes you unclean.  That is where all the judgmental thoughts, the greedy and selfish thoughts, the jealous and hurtful thoughts, etc. come from.  

Ceremonial uncleanliness is not the concern.  The concern is how clean is your heart?  How clean is your mind?

That is the first part of our Gospel text.  The following passage is a great illustration of that principle.  It is one that makes many of us uncomfortable.  And, I believe, that is the Holy Spirit’s intent.  Cause us to question our assumptions, question how we view and treat people that we view as unclean and unholy.

This is the story of a Canaanite woman who has a demon possessed daughter.  An interesting point of the story that is oftentimes missed is the setting.  It is in the area of Tyre and Sidon, a town deep into Gentile territory, about 50 miles from where Jesus has last been in Galilee.  Another interesting point is after this encounter Jesus again returns to Galilee.  

Did Jesus get lost?  Did His GPS misdirect Him?  Did He intentionally go out of His way to encounter this desperate mom?  We don’t know, but it is important to know that Jesus takes a 100 mile round trip out of His way, has this uncomfortable encounter with this Canaanite woman and then returns to Galilee.

It is uncomfortable because the woman is bold, brash and unstoppable.  She is an aggressive woman, motivated by her daughter’s condition.  Most of us even today get uncomfortable with an aggressive female.  Guys we expect to be aggressive.  Gals, not so much.  She is a momma bear caring her child.  And she does not give up.  The Greek language implies she is very persistent.  

It is also uncomfortable because Jesus ignores this woman, calls her an outsider (she isn’t a Jew), and insults her and her daughter by calling them dogs.

The disciples are beside themselves.  It is a very uncomfortable situation.  First, because of the woman herself.  Not only is she a woman who should not talk to a Jewish man in public, she is an Canaanite woman. She is a descendent of the original people that inhabited the land before the Jews took possession.  She is not Jewish, and her religious affiliation is unclear.  That two strikes right from the start! Plus she is so unrelentingly aggressive.  What a turn off.

And then Jesus!  What do you think when He ignores her?  Is that the way you picture Him?  How would you feel if He treated us/you that way?  Then after she persists and the disciples ask Jesus to send her away, Jesus very clearly says, He has come only to care for “the lost sheep of Israel.” She doesn’t have a membership card.  He says that out loud so everyone could her.  

Is that true?  Remember Jonah and Nineveh? God has always been concerned about the larger picture.  God is not merely the God of the Jews.  Jesus is the Savior of the world, not of one small group of humans.  Remember John 3:16, “for God so loved the world…”  

Jesus is saying this to rattle His disciples and our unquestioned thinking, to challenge our biases and assumptions.  I picture Jesus glancing at this woman and catching her eye, with a glint in His eye.  He knows her.  He knows she is spunky.  He shows her faith to be genuine and praise worthy.  “Great is your faith.  Your daughter is well.”  Jesus only says that two other times.  

Jesus does not side step tough issues.  He is like—bring it on!  He clarifies kingdom values and kingdom principles.  It is not human traditions and ceremonial cleansing that matters, but rather how we value and treat each other.  Including how we treat others that are strangers and different.  

How welcoming are we?  Whom do we exclude and defend ourselves in doing so?  How small minded and narrow are we in our circle drawing?

“He drew a circle that shut me out-

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!”

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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