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Pentecost 10 Proper 15A RCL August 17, 2014

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

Last Sunday we began reading the story of Joseph. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son. He is a dreamer. He also has visions. One of his visions indicates that he is going to be more powerful than his brothers. This does not exactly make him popular with them. On top of that, Joseph has been given a very special coat of many colors. or, as one musical puts it, his “amazing technicolor dream coat.” His brothers do not like that at all.

One thing leads to another, and they talk about killing Joseph. Reuben convinces them not to do that. Finally, they throw him into a pit and sell him to some traders. The brothers dip his many-colored coat in goat’s blood and tell their father that Joseph is dead. The traders take Joseph to Egypt.

After some ups and downs, Joseph rises to a position second only to the pharaoh. There is a famine all over the area, and, under Joseph’s guidance, Egypt has carefully stockpiled food for seven years in order to be prepared for the seven years of famine which Joseph had predicted from the pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven lean cows.

After many more dramatic events, Joseph’s brothers, including his beloved brother Benjamin, have come to buy food to take home to the family in Canaan. The brothers have no idea that this powerful man, with whom they have already had some dealings, is their own brother Joseph, but Joseph is now overcome with feelings.

Joseph weeps loudly and tells his brothers who he really is. He tells them that he forgives them for what they did many years ago, and he says that God sent him ahead of them to provide for them and their families. He tells them to go home and get their father and all the family and bring them back to Egypt and he will take care of them.

Then Joseph and Benjamin, both sons of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, hug each other and cry, and kiss each other. These biblical stories can be grisly, but they can also be tender and moving. Here we have a tale of sibling rivalry gone to extremes and forgiveness in return. What a powerful example Joseph sets for us. After all his brothers did to him, he sees the hand of God in every step of the journey and he is also able to stand on the side of love and forgive his brothers.

Our gospel for today is one of the most compelling stories in the ministry of our Lord. Jesus and the disciples are in the district of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile area. also called Phoenicia. A woman from the area, a Gentile, starts to shout, “Have mercy on me, Lord. My daughter is sick. Please cure her.”

Jesus does not answer. He thinks his ministry is only to people of his own faith. This is getting embarrassing because she continues to shout. The disciples want him to send her away. So Jesus tells the woman that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She is persistent in her need. She comes and kneels in front of him, beseeching. “Lord, help me.”

And then he says that line which makes us wince. “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” He thinks his mission is not to her people. But she is so desperate, and she sees something that our Lord himself does not yet see, She knows that he has come to help and welcome everyone. So she says those words that change Jesus’ understanding of his ministry: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Think of this. This woman helps Jesus to a clearer understanding of his ministry, Jesus has the humility to listen to her, to hear what she is saying.

That is why he tells her that her faith is great. Her daughter is healed that instant. Jesus comes to an entirely new understanding of his ministry in this encounter with a mother who is desperate to have her child healed.

This woman realizes that the new faith is for the whole world., that Jesus’ love and healing are for everyone. As Archbishop Tutu says, God’s family is a very big family indeed, and this Canaanite woman is one of the first people in the gospels to recognize that fact.

Joseph could have been bitter, He could have been cruel to his brothers. He could have put them all in prison. He could have done terrible things to them, But he did not. He may have been a dreamer, but he was also very gifted and deeply spiritual, He rooted himself in God’s compassion and extended that compassion to his brothers.

This Canaanite woman had a vision of what God was doing on earth. God was reaching out to all people. Jesus had the wisdom and humility and openness to listen to someone who was not highly respected in his culture. Women were at the bottom of the scale.Gentiles were in the same position. But Jesus listened.

Gracious God, grant us the gifts of compassion, faith, persistence, humility, and wisdom. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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