A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose table is overflowing. Amen.
Our text this morning is a difficult one, full of ancient tensions between insiders and outsiders. The Hebrew Bible, situated as it is at the intersection of royal politics and religious identity – and those in a kingdom situated at the crossroads of empires – wrestles with the question of how to respond to the outsider.
The prophets employ polemical rhetoric to mock and condemn Israel’s enemies and foreign militaries – but then again, Naaman the Aramean army officer, comes to Elisha seeking healing and from then worships only the Lord God of Israel.
In the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah, those returning from Exile in Babylon forswear marriage with foreign women – but the stories of Rahab and Ruth place foreign women in crucial roles, and Saint Matthew puts these alien wives in the Messiah’s lineage.
This sort of back-and-forth was still a live question in Jesus’ day. First-century Judea was home to Jews but also Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, and others, and had Gentile neighbors in every direction.
Already in Christ’s ministry as depicted in Saint Matthew’s gospel, h has healed a Roman centurion’s servant and traveled into Gentile territory called the Decapolis to exorcise two demons in the town of Gedara. Even before the Sermon on the Mount, the Evangelist tells us, Jesus attracted disciples from Syria to the north and the Decapolis.
And so again today he is in Gentile territory when a woman comes to him seeking his help. But not just any woman. She’s, as Matthew puts it, a Canaanite. One of those people who occupied the Land of Promise and fought against the Hebrews, one of Israel’s most ancient enemies.
The disciples know just what to do: send her away!
But she calls to Jesus – not by name but by messianic title: Lord, Son of David. She knows who he is even as the Pharisees argue against him. During their exchange, Jesus says that it is not fair to take from the children of Abraham to feed the dogs (hearkening back to his words in chapter seven).
Nevertheless, she persists and reminds Christ that even the dogs might eat the crumbs that spill under the table.
And what crumbs we have seen from the Lord’s table! Just two weeks ago, the Messiah blessed and broke a small meal, and with it fed thousands! With twelve large baskets of broken bread and fish left over! And yes, Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and yes, he sent out the twelve disciples to those same lost sheep, but already his ministry has stretched beyond the children of Abraham and into the Roman soldier’s household, into Gedara and the Decapolis, and up into Syria, and he will send those disciples out again after his Resurrection – this time, to baptize all nations.
The Canaanite woman, this outsider, knows what the Pharisees don’t: that this is the Son of David. AND she knows what the disciples don’t: that there is enough salvation to go around. And by the end of this chapter, that same abundant grace will be on display again as Christ feeds another multitude – this time, as Saint Mark notes in his telling, in Gentile territory – and even though Christ performs the same miracle for a foreign audience, there are still baskets of leftovers to spare!
How often we, like those first disciples before us, try to store up grace and use it sparingly: as though if we are too generous, too giving, if we lend stick our neck out too far or lift up our voice to speak on behalf of too many others, that we will exhaust what God has given. We worry that if we share God’s grace too widely, there may not be enough left over for us. We worry that if add too many names, our prayer list will get too long, that if we show compassion for too many people, we will grow weary of caring.
But God’s table is overflowing to the point that even the crumbs are enough to satisfy! And in this abundant grace, we are set free to love boldly, to care deeply, to give generously, knowing that their will be enough. We are set free to ask boldly, knowing the Lord will provide.
And we are set free to feast, trusting that even the scraps from the table will satisfy our hungry hearts.