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Pentecost 11 Proper 15A RCL August 20, 2017

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

As we reflect on our opening reading today, we need to recall that, in last Sunday’s lesson, Joseph’s brothers had planned to kill him and then threw him into a pit and then sold him to a group of human traffickers for twenty pieces of silver. Those twenty pieces of silver might make us think of the price Judas received for betraying our Lord—thirty pieces of silver.

The slave traders took Joseph to Egypt. After many trials and tribulations, some bizarre challenges that would have totally flummoxed most other people, and much help from God, Joseph has risen to a high position in a powerful kingdom. He is second only to the Pharaoh in the land of Egypt.

Famine is stalking the land, but Egypt has plenty of grain stored, thanks to Joseph’s wise planning. Joseph’s brothers have come to buy grain. This is their second visit to this great man, and they have done something he asked them to do on their first trip. They have brought their brother Benjamin with them.  They do not recognize Joseph. But he has recognized them. He sends everyone out of the room except himself and his family because he is not going to be able to control his tears.

He asks if his father is all right. They cannot answer him. They are speechless because they are so shocked that this great man is losing control of his emotions. Then he tells them who he is. And he also tells them that he holds no grudge against them because he feels that God has led him to this place so that he can help his people to survive. Joseph tells his brothers to bring the whole family to the land of Goshen, where there is plenty of food.  Then he gives a big hug to his beloved brother Benjamin, and they cry tears of joy because they thought they would never see each other again. Then they all have a good talk.

This is one of the great scenes of reconciliation in the Bible. Joseph had as much power as a king in one of the great kingdoms of that time. He could have killed or tortured all his brothers. But he used his great power for good. All those years he focused on love, not hate. He felt God had brought him to this point so that he could help his people, save then from famine, and preserve them for even greater things in the future.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans focuses on God’s mercy to us.

In today’s gospel, we have one of the most extraordinary encounters in our Lord’s ministry. Jesus is in the coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea. He has gone into the territory of the Gentiles. This is unusual because he had said that he was here only to minister to his own people.

A woman calls to him for help. She is a Canaanite. She is not a Jew. She is not part of the flock he has felt called to minister to. But she has a dire need. Her daughter is tormented by a demon. In those days, this is the way people described certain illnesses, often mental illnesses or seizure disorders. This woman is desperate.

His disciples urge him to have nothing to do with her. She is a woman. Rabbis were not supposed to speak with women. And she is a Gentile, Rabbis were not supposed to speak to Gentiles. The disciples tell him to send her away.

So he tries to explain, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, I am supposed to minister only to my own people. You are not one of those people. That’s why I cannot help you. And we can picture him turning away and getting ready to leave.

But she comes and kneels before him. This is a position of supplication and respect. “Lord, help me, “ she pleads.

Something is stirring within Jesus. I think he is sensing that his whole vision is going to change in a major way, and I think he is upset by this. At any rate, his answer is shocking, almost angry, “It is not fair to take the children’s food—that is, the food intended for Jewish people, God’s chosen people—and throw it to the dogs.” The word “Dogs,” then as now, could be used as an insult.

Here she is, pleading for the health and life of her daughter, and Jesus throws this slur, implying that she is inferior. Most of us would have given up at that point. But not this courageous woman, this woman who can think on her feet at light speed, this woman who is about to expand Jesus’ vision of his mission by quantum leaps: “Yes, Lord,” she says, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Could you at least be like the master who lets us dogs eat the crumbs under the table? This Canaanite woman, this person who is not one of the chosen people, who is of the wrong gender, who is beyond the pale, who is at the bottom of the social ladder, who is an outsider if ever there was one, changes our Lord’s understanding of his ministry. Now he knows that he is called to minister to all of us. He has had inklings, but this woman suddenly becomes a theology professor.

This woman has the faith and feistiness to hang in there and get her point across and Jesus, the teacher, the rabbi, the eternal Word, God walking the face of the earth, has the humility, in his humanity, to be taught by a mere Gentile woman.

He sings her a hymn of praise, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed instantly.

And all of our walls, of status, education, race, gender, sexuality, education, politics, economics, religion, all of our walls come tumbling down.

He is Lord of all, and we are all part of his family.  Amen.

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