St. Paul’s – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2020
The Chronicles of Narnia is a Collection of 7 Books written by C.S. Lewis.The series revolves around the adventures of children in the world of Narnia, guided by Aslan.
In a letter to a fifth-grade class, Lewis explained that Aslan is not meant simply to “represent” Jesus: Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.
For over 60 years, readers of all ages have been enchanted by the magical realms, the epic battles between good and evil, and the unforgettable creatures of Narnia.
One of my favorite characters…..Reepicheep, the bravest of all mice in the land of Narnia, ends up loosing his tail in battle. And as he presents himself to Aslan, the King of Narnia (the Christ-figure in the form of a great Lion), he bows and realizes the terrifying absence of something terribly important to him as a mouse.
I am confounded, said Reepicheep to Aslan. I am completely out of countenance. I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion.
…What do you want with a tail? asked Aslan.
Sir, said the Mouse, I can eat and sleep and die for my King without one. But a tail is the honour and glory of a Mouse.
I have sometimes wondered, friend, said Aslan, Whether you do not think too much about your honour.
Highest of all High Kings, said Reepicheep, permit me to remind you that a very small size has been bestowed on us Mice, and if we did not guard our dignity, some (who weigh worth by inches) would allow themselves very unsuitable pleasantries at our expense.
Why have all your followers drawn their swords, may I ask? said Aslan.
May it please your High Majesty, said the second Mouse, whose name was Peepiceek, we are all waiting to cut off our own tails if our Chief must go without his. We will not bear the shame of wearing an honour which is denied to the High Mouse.
And in an about face…. Aslan roars, Ah! You have conquered me. Reepicheep…you shall have your tail again.
And in today’s Gospel reading, at first glance, like Aslan to the Mouse’s plight, Jesus seems to act similarly – unsympathetically. Jesus seems distressingly unkind—and in many ways, it comes across as scandalous. It seems so at odds with the Jesus we know….so inconsistent with his character.
It is the story of Jesus and the disciples’ encounter with a Canaanite woman (we would call her a Lebanese today), in the area of Tyre and Sidon. Perhaps you read about the recent findings of a fascinating genetic DNA analysis that discovered that the modern Lebanese people share about 93 percent of their ancestry with the ancient Canaanite remains found in an excavation site in Sidon, Lebanon that are over 3,700 years old.
At the time Jesus lived, the Jewish people saw the world divided into two categories of people— themselves and everyone else. A Jewish person then regarded foreigners (known as Gentiles) as morally unclean and more profoundly, spiritually lost. For, to the Jewish people, they themselves were God’s chosen, and Gentiles, or all others, were not.
Here in our Gospel Reading, this tension between the two groups is very evident. The Canaanites were the ancient enemies of the Jews. And Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman, who urgently pleads with him to heal her daughter who is very ill -she refers to her as being “tormented by a demon”.
This woman, in typical Jewish eyes at that time, was the most unclean, unworthy individual imaginable—she had no status in ancient Palestine as far as they were concerned. You may call her a triple untouchable: a Gentile, a pagan and a woman.
She pleads for help. The word that is used here in the original language for her begging Jesus to help implies a continual appeal to him. We are told that at first, Jesus ignores her—he did not answer her at all.
We are told that the disciples even encouraged Jesus to send her away. She was a nuisance to them. As she pleads for her daughter, there is not an ounce of compassion on their part. Then, we are told that Jesus, stops, and replies to her, saying that he was sent [to help] only the lost sheep of the house of Israel—meaning to the Jewish people only.
To her continued pleas, Jesus goes so far as to say, It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. A most exclusionary and uncompassionate response…In effect, what Jesus is doing is demonstrating the worldview of the Jewish people at this time…a contemptuous Jewish attitude to Gentiles. And as Jesus illustrates in this encounter, it is a very natural thing to fall into a boundary way of thinking— us and them – our circle and their circle
And even though the many natural differences are healthy and should lead to a diversity that causes everyone to thrive all the more….
The human tendency is to often take those differences and create them into categories, with walls of exclusivity going up around them.Whether they are ethnic, cultural, political, gender or religious….
White/those of color
And on and on….the barriers keep going up…
Boundary-thinking so often leads to circles being drawn—viewing the other (whoever the other is), as less important or even wrong. And yet our Reading goes on to show us about the opposite….that of drawing bigger circles around our smaller circles. For God’s circles are not to keep others out, but to invite ALL in as equals.
We have a boundry-less God
This is part of what Isiah says this morning….. ..for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. God’s love is a universal love for all. God’s given- ness to ALL knows no boundaries. The very nature of God’s heart supersedes all borders.
We have a boundry-less God.
I love those words of the 12th century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen.
Just as a circle
embraces all that is within it, so does the Divine
No one has the power
to divide this circle,
to surpass it,
or to limit it.
In God’s eyes, there are no borders between us.
We have a boundry-less God.
So, while Jesus, in the first part of our reading demonstrates the local worldview of the time, he goes on to then completely blow it out of the water.
In the women’s response to Jesus, well even dogs get to eat the crumbs under the table, she is demonstrating that, of all those present, she is the only one who truly understands God’s character- –for she sees and knows God’s inclusive heart. God is boundry-less.
She knew that God is all mercy and love! Bismillah Al Rahman Al Rahim…as our Muslim sisters and brothers say – In the Name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate…In other words…. God does not abide by social, cultural, racial, religious norms or conventions.
And when she says that, Jesus changes. He allows a perspective foreign to his own to move him from an attitude of narrow-mindedness to an attitude of inclusion. He allows himself to be humbled, rearranged, and remade. Barbara Brown Taylor describes the moment this way: You can almost hear the huge wheel of history turning as
Jesus comes to a new understanding of who he is and what he has been called to do. The Canaanite woman’s faith and persistence teach him that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he had imagined, that there is enough of him to go around.
What would it be like to follow in the footsteps of a Jesus who listens to the urgent challenge of the Other? Who humbles himself long enough to learn what only a vulnerable outsider can teach? What would it be like to stop limiting who we will be for other people, and who we will let them be for us? What would it be like to insist on Good News for people who don’t look, speak, behave, or worship like we do?
Right now, we are living through times so fraught and so tenuous, everything depends on exactly how good the Good News really is. It’s not good enough if it’s good just for me, or for the people who look and think like me, or for the people I already happen to like and love. Is it Good News yet for those dying of Covid? Is it Good News yet for the starving and the incarcerated and the unemployed and the homeless? Is it Good News yet for the people across the border? Is it Good News yet for the people you’ve been conditioned all your life to ignore?
If the answer is no, then we have work to do. Remember, Jesus himself has gone ahead of us, widening the gates and throwing open the doors to welcome the voice of a despised foreigner. He has modeled a kind of listening and learning that should bring us to our knees. He has shown us that compassion can be cultivated; we can grow into greater and more inclusive love. He has left us with a bottom line we ignore at our peril: If it’s not Good News for everyone, then it’s not good enough yet. Period.
Proclaim that. Here is what is worth proclaiming.
Proclaim the good news of Jesus who ends up exemplifying God’s perspective. Jesus of course then heals the women’s daughter—and in so doing is showing that God overcomes all ethnic, cultural, political, economic, social, gender and religious barriers. In breaking through all societal and cultural walls of separation, he is shattering the prejudicial system of his day.
I remember that humorous line from the best-selling American writer Anne Lamott. She writes,You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
Yet our challenge, as we journey with God, is to work continually toward seeing things more and more with God’s eyes. The question our reading puts before us is, who are the Canaanites in our own worlds? It is a tension everyone lives with—the way our world is structured and the way God sees it.
In addition to our passage from Isaiah and and the story from the Gospel, I close with something Kahlil Gibran has said….. Addressing his fellow Arabs in the Middle East, Gibran wrote:
Humans are divided into different clans and tribes, and belong to countries and towns. But I find myself a stranger to all communities and belong to no settlement. The universe is my country and the human family is my tribe . . . I love my native village with some of my love for my country; and I love my country with part of my love for the earth, all of which is my country; and I love the earth with all of myself because it is the haven of humanity, the manifest spirit of God. . . Thou are my sister and brother because you are human, and we both are children of one Holy Spirit; we are equal and made of the same earth.
And then he goes even further, touching on the most sensitive topic in the Middle East of all…religion…and doing so by looking to the nature of God.
You are my brother [and sister] and I love you. I love you worshipping in your church, kneeling in your temple, and praying in your mosque. You and I are all children of one religion, for the varied paths of religion are but the fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being, extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, anxious to receive all. (A Tear and a Smile, A Poet’s Voice)
With Jesus as our model, we are called to step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves, because we are promised that it is God’s own self who waits for us on the other side.
calm us into a quietness
And molds our longings
Into a more holy
Recognized as you in us.
May the God we serve pour grace and blessing into our lives!
May the face of God shine light upon us!
May we celebrate God’s love and justice in such a way
that everyone around will come to know God,
and will experience God’s grace and blessing for themselves.
God go with you!
Prayer of Dedication/Offering
May we not offer you the leftovers of our resources and our lives, Blessing God, but let these gifts be but part of what we give back to you, as we seek to serve your people and your creation. Amen.
In times of plenty and want, God provides for our deepest needs.
Give generously out of the abundance of God’s blessing
so that in these challenging times God’s work might continue.