Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. [NRSV]
The story is about is clean and acceptable to God and what is not.
Clean and Neat
I once had a local barber who said his hairstyles were guaranteed to make one “clean and neat.” He also loved buzz-cuts and flat-tops and used his Georgia Tech degree to talk about subjects far above the heads of most customers who had never even dreamed about anti-matter, black holes, and general relativity.
The teaching moment from Jesus would say to my old barber that God is not concerned with our hairstyle or any physical or cultural context.
Rather, what is acceptable is measured by our words and actions.
A Timely Teaching
This passage is important to hear in our hypersensitivity to politics, racism, and contextual priorities.
The debate and argument, in these exchanges, contain (1) racial-cultural division, (2) accusations of fundamentalist theologies, and (3) challenging questions about who is correct.
The story is interrupted by a Canaanite woman (double challenge: the descendants of Cain and a woman) The division between the Jews and the Canaanites were a polorized as any today.
The role of women is transformed in the Gospel as God works through women as often as men to reveal, teach and serve.
(2) Accusation of Fundamentalism
This woman comes to Jesus requesting healing for her daughter and hears Jesus say she was not going to have her prayer granted and for her to leave his presence. He declares that his mission was more important than the people. His response is that he had not come to work with the Canaanites. His mission was to the Jews. Those who were connected to Cain were cursed from generations before. (Why so harsh? hang on we are getting there in a moment)
(3) Who is correct in the Context?
Wouldn’t it be great to get a clear judgment these days about who is right and who is wrong? Is it the conservatives or the progressives? Is it the rich or the poor? Is it the wise or foolish? Is it the needed or the greedy?
Jesus is clear on the counts of culture, mission, context, and purpose:
Some folks will not be healed,
some will not have prayers answered,
some will be rejected and some sent away.
(As hard as that is, feels or sounds: This message confirms that some are defiled.)
What Defiles, what makes us unacceptable?
- evil intentions:
- Wishing, work and hoping that evil will come to another. “I wish he were dead, gone, out.”
- Willful taking of life, and the neglect of loving one’s enemy
- Disregard of marriage and family covenants
- Misplaced use of our sexuality
- Taking what does not belong to us, taking advantage of the system
- false witness
- Speaking in ways that protect ourselves over what is true in the eyes of God.
- Discrediting our enemy and our neighbor instead of loving and encouraging them.
Jesus and the Disciples change their context, leaving the region of Tyre and Sidon and in Canaan, they are confronted with a woman who challenges the words of the teaching with faith and persistence.
Q: What has she done that defiled her that would warrant Jesus’ rejection of her request and her presence:
She comes asking for healing, for her child, recognizing the power and authority of Jesus, she comes from a different culture, gender, and no apparent charge by Jesus of her behavior being unacceptable. The rejection is on theological and missional grounds:
You’re not Jewish, You’re not in the plan, You are not the right gender, You are not at the right time.
The transforming moment comes when she expresses her faith and trust in God.
All I need is a crumb.
All I need is a mustard seed.
All I am is one lost sheep.
Lord have mercy on me a hungry sinner in need of a crumb of the bread of life.
Recognition: Even in our different back stories, Jesus’s measure is faith.
Recognition: Even in poverty, what we need is Jesus more than fairness.
Recognition: God’s plan changes on the side of including the faithful, not just the poor.
Recognition: Faith is measured by the persistence of staying in the conversation, at the table.
Here are the power questions to answer honestly:
Are the polarized messages you and I hear about what divide us questions about what someone deserves or acknowledgments of what God can do?
In the stories of what persons of different races, culture, gender or economics bring to the conversation about how wrong and evil the establishment is or how possible healing and transformation are for God?
In the story is the woman trying to receive justice or give witness to her trust in God?
In the example is the woman trying to demonize and prove how evil others are or is she calling on God to show up where faith is present?
In this passage, what defiles: the faith we hold in our hearts and minds or the persistence in which we voice it on behalf of those who are lost, dying, broken and alone?
Our society has it all backward:
- It is not about having the correct ideas in our heads, it is about having trust in God in our requests.
- It is not about putting down the establishments, leaders, and systems, it is about telling the world how to trust God to show up.
- It is neither about being made whole,
- fair nor equal, it is about the power of God at work in the crumbs, in the small things,
- in the daily bread, in the hourly actions, in moments of our real actions.
- in the hourly actions, in moments of our real actions.
- in the every moment of our real actions.
We are defiled when our actions and words DO NOT reflect God’s power and presence.
Even if it is only daily crumbs, let God be our persistent trust.
When the woman asks for a mustard seed of what God can do, Jesus celebrates her faithfulness.
All the slander, divisions, false witness, evil intentions, murder, theft, disregard for covenants and responsibilities and the passionate preoccupations with vilifying our enemies: leaves us mistaking passionate lip service instead of actions of trusting God.
- When you hear evil, divisions, and fear: This is our call to trust God.
- When you are tempted to join in the tradition divisive agenda: Trade that for a crumb of faithful trust.
- When you see, read words of hate and separation: Persistently remind yourself and all others what God can do.
And Jesus will praise our faithfulness, heal our brokenness and make us whole in grace.