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Pentecost 11 Proper 15A August 16, 2020


Genesis 45: 1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28

In our opening reading today, we continue the story of Joseph. Last week, we looked on as his brothers plotted to kill him and then decided to throw him into a pit and eventually sold him to slave traders who were going to Egypt.

When they reached Egypt, the human traffickers sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer in the Pharaoh’s army, the Captain of the Guard. It is a fast-moving story. Through many trials and tribulations, Joseph finally becomes the head assistant to the Pharaoh himself. His steady rise to this high office is due to his high moral caliber, his integrity, and his God-given gift of interpreting dreams. Joseph is now in charge of everything the Pharaoh has.

One of the dreams has to do with seven fat cows and seven lean cows. Joseph tells the Pharaoh that the seven fat cows mean that there are going to be seven years in which there will be record high harvests and the seven lean cows mean that there will be a famine.

Joseph brilliantly fills granaries full of grain during the fat years so that everyone will have something to eat in the lean years.

Joseph has now been in his high position for several years, and his brothers have already come to Egypt asking to buy grain. He has not let them know who he is and they have not recognized him. Now they are back again, and he is having great difficulty in controlling his emotions. He wants to cry at the sight of them. They threw him into a pit and then sold him to human traffickers for twenty pieces of silver, but he is not holding any grudges. He could have had them killed. He could have turned them away. But he did not do that. Now, here they are again. Joseph sends everyone else out of the room.

He bursts into tears and cries so loudly that everyone in the palace hears him, and then he tells his brothers who he is. And he gives them his interpretation of the meaning of all his struggles. God sent him to Egypt so that he could save his family and save the life of his people. He tells them to go back to their father and invite everyone to come and live in Egypt and not only survive, but thrive.

Then he hugs Benjamin and Benjamin hugs him, and they all shed tears of joy at being together again and hug each other and have a good cry and an even better talk. After all those years. And then the family comes and settles in the land of Goshen.

The story of Joseph and his brothers can teach us so much. They threw him into a pit. He could have died at any point along the way. Things didn’t start out well in Egypt. He spent some time in jail over a misunderstanding. But he never lost his faith; he always acted ethically; and he was a faithful steward of the Pharaoh’s and Egypt’s and God’s abundance. He saved a nation. And he forgave his brothers. Mercy and forgiveness are one of the themes in our readings for today. In spite of everything Joseph loved his brothers and forgave them. In spite of all the challenges and near tragedies in his life, he felt the hand of God leading him to save his family and his people, God’s people.

In our gospel for today, we have another unforgettable story. Jesus is in Gentile territory. A woman comes to him and begins to shout, “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David, my daughter is possessed by a demon.” In those times, people thought a demon was causing diseases such as mental illness and seizure disorders. At first, Jesus does not answer. He is considered a rabbi and in those days rabbis were not supposed to speak with women. He is Jewish and in those days Jews did not speak to Gentiles. His disciples tell him to send her away. Jesus says that he was sent only to his own people, the “Lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now the women kneels at his feet. “Lord, help me,” she begs. For the second time, she is addressing him as the Savior. Though she is a Gentile, she knows who he is.

And then our Lord says something that almost shocks us. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Biblical scholar Charles Cousar writes, “The use of the term ‘dogs,’ even though metaphorical, is hardly a label of endearment. It was regularly applied, with some condescension, to Gentiles. The woman has every right to take offense.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year A, p, 450.)

Jesus is showing his humanity. The Church teaches that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his time, people thought that Gentiles were inferior. In his humanity he is looking down on someone of a different ethnicity and religion.

But this woman has a laser focus on only one thing—making sure that her child is healed. She may be a Canaanite, but somehow she has deep faith in God and a profound understanding of God. And she answers, with calmness, reason, and enduring perseverance, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Jesus recognizes the depth and strength of her faith. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. Because of the faith and persistence of this devoted mother, Jesus is beginning to realize that his mission is to all people, that he is sent to bring good news, healing, forgiveness, and love to everyone.

And that is what we are called to do—to bring the love of God and Jesus and the Spirit to everyone. We are the Body of Christ in the world. We are called to be his hands reaching out to welcome people, his eyes looking at people with love, his mouth speaking words of hope and encouragement. There are no barriers. As Archbishop Tutu says, “God has a big family.” Amen.

Let us pray together the Prayer for the Power of the Spirit.

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