11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today for the basis of the sermon is the Gospel lesson as read from Matthew 15.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
It had been a long, hard day; the kind of day where all you want to do is get home, put your feet up, and relax. It had been grueling at work, and the woman plopped down into the bus seat for the ride home. It was Thursday, December 1, 1955. According to the accepted segregation practices and Jim Crow laws of the time, Rosa Parks was required to give up that bus seat should a white person want it. A white man entered the bus and demanded Rosa’s seat, but she would not give it up. She persisted in keeping the seat partially because she was tired, but primarily because she was tired of the treatment she and other African Americans received every day of their lives. They were treated like outsiders…like foreigners. “All men are created equal”…with some exceptions, right? That was the mindset in 1955.
Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat and went to trial. In reaction, there was a 381-day bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in November 1956 that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. Rosa Park’s persistence had paid off. Her refusal to accept the “no exceptions” policies of her day began to change our entire country, but clearly we still have a long way to go.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we also see a “no exceptions” policy in place. Jesus and the disciples are safely on land after the incident on the Sea of last week’s Gospel and now they head up to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which was in the far northwest corner of Israel… foreign Gentile country.
What happened next is a very interesting exchange between Jesus, the Canaanite woman, and the disciples. The disciples were operating with a “no exceptions” policy that they knew from birth and had accepted as a part of their day. At that time women were held in low esteem and, by rights, this woman should not have approached Jesus to talk to Him. But to make matters worse, this was a Canaanite woman. To the disciples this was strike one and strike two! When she began to shout to Jesus, they began to shout her down. The temptation here is to read this event like one group said one thing and then another group spoke as if it were a casual back and forth conversation. Oh no. All this talking is occurring virtually simultaneously creating a very chaotic scene. The disciples don’t want her around and so they urged Jesus to send her away, to make her give up her seat, to get away from them. But Jesus doesn’t operate like that.
This isn’t the 1st century or even the 20th century anymore. But don’t we also operate sometimes with a “no exceptions” policy? What would you do or how would you feel if a visitor came to worship and sat in YOUR spot? Would that go unmentioned? Are you hesitant to reach out to that family who lives in the questionable house nearby? Would you deny telling the Good News of Jesus to someone because of their clothes or appearance or demeanor or where they live? Are you afraid to talk to that rebellious child or grandchild? Don’t want to speak about Christ to that family member? That is not the way Jesus operates…and is not the way we ought to operate.
Jesus doesn’t pick up on the “no exceptions” policy of His day. Instead, He only has 1 exception – unbelief. But that’s not the case here! He notices the exceptional faith that the Canaanite woman possesses. Obviously she possessed a faith given to her by God. She already knew that Jesus was the Son of David. She referred to Jesus as “Lord.” She believed in what Jesus could do. And this is from a Canaanite woman…a woman from a culture that worshipped Baal and a whole host of other gods. But God had revealed to her who Jesus was, and that knowledge, that faith, changed her life.
In addition to recognizing Jesus and accepting her place in society, the Canaanite woman also accepted Jesus’ mission. Jesus reminded her that He had come for the lost sheep of Israel and to provide bread for the chosen people – the children of Israel. The Canaanite woman is not arguing, she is agreeing with the mission of Jesus – that He comes to both the Israelites (children/bread) AND the Gentiles (dogs/crumbs).
In response to her exceptional God-given faith, Jesus showed her exceptional grace. He had just rebuked Peter and the disciples (Matthew 14:22-33) for their lack of faith, and they were Israelites! But the exceptional faith of the Canaanite woman was shown exceptional grace. Upon seeing her God-given faith in action, Jesus granted her request and her daughter was healed… instantly.
That’s the kind of Son of David He is. That’s the kind of Son of God He is. That’s the kind of Lord and Savior He is. His exceptional grace was demonstrated that day in the area of Tyre and Sidon, but it was even more greatly displayed on the cross of Calvary. That day His grace was in all its fullness, while at the same time, He was shown none. He brought mercy and peace to all humanity, but none was shown to Him that day. Even amid the pain and torture of being nailed to a cross, Jesus begged for forgiveness for us, those who are slow to extend mercy and grace to others. What happened on the cross that day and especially at the tomb on the 3rd day changed everything. The exceptional grace of Jesus is extended throughout all of humanity. Through Baptism, through faith in Christ, we are pronounced “Not Guilty.” That is exceptional grace…that is amazing grace!
What, then, is our exceptional response to this exceptional grace? Hopefully it is
a life that is filled with worship and praise and extending exceptional grace toward others. In addition, we have many opportunities to extend God’s grace to others; to show them the same mercy and compassion that has been extended to us. God’s exceptional grace extends to you every hour of every day. How often do you utilize that grace in your life or in the life of someone else? Rosa Parks will always be remembered for not giving up her seat. How will people remember you? What will your legacy be? Hopefully you will be remembered as a person who both knew God’s grace and was willing to share that grace to make the lives of other people better.
Exceptional grace…that’s how God operates. Grace that has no exceptions, grace that shows no favorites. It is amazing grace; grace that saved a wretch like me. For we once were lost, but now we’re found. We were blind…but now we see. We see indeed.