By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
August 17, 2008
Read: Matthew 15:10-28
Today, I want to talk about boundaries. That’s where Jesus found himself that day, on the boundary.
Jesus was weary. He had been involved in a flurry of activity in recent days. He just wanted to rest, and people kept coming to him. A crowd came, seeking healing, when he was alone in the wilderness. Jesus healed them, and he fed them miraculously. His disciples were threatened in a late night storm at sea, and he had to come to their rescue. Each time, he had only wanted to be alone to pray. Jesus was weary.
And then, the Pharisees get in the act. When they hear a rumor that Jesus and his disciples didn’t follow their interpretation of God’s law—about washing their hands before eating bread—they started a debate with Jesus. He made his point that God is more concerned about compassion than about being ritually clean. He is more concerned about how we are in relationship with others, than he is concerned about the letter of the law. He made his point, but he made some enemies, too.
And Jesus was weary. So, seeking renewal, Jesus goes off into a remote area, to be alone, to pray and reflect on his mission.
Jesus goes toward the boundary. He heads off to the edge of Palestine, to the area of Tyre and Sidon, in the north, along the Mediterranean Sea. And there, at the boundary, an outsider—a Canaanite woman—confronts him. She has a problem: she has a daughter possessed by a demon, and she’s heard about the compassion and healing power of Jesus, and she shouts at him, pleading for help, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now, in Jesus’ eyes, this woman has another problem. He knows about the wideness of God’s mercy. He knows that the compassion of God has no boundaries. He has embodied that compassion already, when he healed a Roman soldier’s servant. Jesus knows about the compassion of God and the wideness of God’s mercy, but he also knows his own mission. And that mission is to gather “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.
The woman doesn’t fit the bill. She’s a Canaanite—one of the ancient enemies of Israel. And she’s a woman. And she has a daughter with a frightening illness. Time is short, his work is urgent, and Jesus just doesn’t have time for this outsider. He brushes her off, but she persists.
Here is an outsider, someone on the boundary, who sees Jesus for who he really is, the Son of God. The chosen ones of Israel can’t seem to figure out that Jesus is the Son of God, but here, on the boundary, a woman knows this. Someone on the outside.
And, finally, because of her great faith, Jesus grants her request. At the boundary, Jesus gives a hint that the mission to the lost ones of Israel will be expanded to the ends of the earth.
Jesus is moved by the woman’s great faith.
Last week, we read a story about the disciples, threatened at sea, storm-tossed in their little boat. Jesus came walking on water to rescue them. Peter tried walking on the water, too, started to sink, and had to be rescued by Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus accused Peter of after he had rescued him? “Little faith.” Peter had “little faith”.
Now that’s interesting, isn’t it! One of Jesus’ closest followers—and insider—often waffled and wavered in his faith. And, in contrast, at the boundary, Jesus encounters a Gentile woman—an outsider—with great faith.
What makes her faith great?
The woman is persistent. When she knows who she’s dealing with, and knows the power and compassion of Jesus, she doesn’t let up until she receives mercy for her daughter. She is willing to risk humiliation because she knows Jesus can help her.
And, though she is an outsider, the woman is willing to acknowledge the power of Jesus. “Lord,” she calls him, and “Son of David”. She knows he is powerful in Israel, and she knows his power over all people and all things. She knows that Jesus can do what she asks, even though she’s on the outside looking in.
It’s a difficult place to be—at the boundary. But it’s a good place to be, too. Why? Because there are some people of great faith there.
And—oh, yes!—Jesus is there, too!
In our Book of Common Prayer there is a prayer called the prayer of Humble Access:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
So we see, those on the inside as well as those on the outside, are all loved unconditionally by God. It’s often in the boundaries, in those blurred edges, or parts of our life, that Jesus’ presence becomes most clear. Step over the lines you have drawn for yourself? Where are your boundaries? What separates us?
One theologian once wrote that every church should have a picture or statue of the Canaanite woman to remind the disciples of Jesus that God reaches out beyond our limitations of love and acceptance, that those we would reject are those God accepts too.
When Jesus paid attention to the Canaanite woman, he broke down all the boundaries that separate us from one another and from the love of God.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
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