Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20 August)

This week’s Gospel passage is found in Matthew Chapter 15

Matthew’s story of a Canaanite woman follows a controversy with some Pharisees and scribes. He recalls the encounter between Jesus and the Jerusalem authorities, not just to record this memorable exchange. Matthew is writing to the church of his day, a church that is an increasing blend of Jew and Gentile, of those who were raised within the structures of Jewish written and oral tradition and those who were excluded on the basis of the same tradition. While this encounter between Jesus and the Jerusalem religious authorities is good news for most Christians who have come from Gentile stock, its warning carries over to church authorities. And most of all, it serves as a great warning for us in this day and age too about how we understand hospitality and kindness. Are we paying more attention to ‘washing hands’ than to ‘cleansing hearts’? Do we claim religious tradition as an excuse to act in a way far from the heart of Christ? As we read on, Jesus moves from one intense encounter with the keepers of tradition to an equally intense encounter with the Canaanite woman for whom tradition has proven to be a ‘holy’ fence, keeping them on the outside. Jesus also seems to follow along by travelling to ‘unwashed’ territory that tradition considers a ‘toxic waste’ area. But how does this apply to us? What would it mean for us to follow Jesus into the ‘toxic waste areas’ of the world? What would it mean for the faithful to worry less about how ‘we have always done it this way’ and listen more to the cries of those that tradition considers ‘unwashed’? The Gentile woman refuses to allow even Jesus to let ‘tradition’ become a barrier. Jesus, in Matthew, is not ashamed of learning something from a Gentile woman. With obvious delight he commends her ‘great faith’ and grants her request. Inside this story and our own stories, Jesus does not always conform to what we hope for. How do we respond honestly and reengage our faith when Jesus does not come through for us as we expect? May the Holy Spirit guide you in your response.