On my walks around town, I’ve noticed the thoughtless results of those who litter. I’ve seen some rather strange items cluttering up God’s beautiful creation plan. On one occasion I saw a rather large soda bottle filled with a yellow liquid. I don’t even want to guess as to what’s in that bottle. All I know was the bottle was lying on the edge of a well-tended lawn in front of a beautiful old home. On another walk I saw a series of small scraps of paper: gum wrappers, scribbled notes and an occasional bruised copy of someone’s business card. Then there was the day I saw one, lone athletic shoe and wondered, if that shoe could talk, what story it might give as to how it arrived in that spot and, without its mate.
One day, I was walking up Fairview and passed what looked like a check from a bank account lying on the pavement. I had to go back and look more closely and sure enough, it was a signed check made out in the amount of $600.00 to an unknown person from a contractor whose business name was engraved at top of the check. I tucked that piece of trash (?) in my pocket figuring I might be able to return it to its owner. Further up the same street I saw a pick- up truck with the contractor’s name emblazoned on the door. Now I had my chance to do a good deed. I hesitated a minute…not sure what kind of reception I’d get from the owner of said truck and check but then, working up my courage, I stepped into the yard. I knocked on the door and I waited. I was rewarded by a quick response from a none- too- pleased-to see me looking man who eyed me with suspicion. To his questioning “Yes?” I explained what I had found on my walk and where and then I handed the check to him. With a quick “thank you” he shut the door in my face leaving me feeling less than rewarded for my effort. And, of course, I wondered how one of his checks had found its way to the pavement at the far end of his street.
Our lives are filled with the scraps of paper and other useless paraphernalia, which clutter up our small personal worlds and which, occasionally intrude on the collective world around us. Frankly, some folks take great pleasure and may make a bit of money too just for scavenging the streets, beaches, and other people-cluttered spaces selling what they find. Someone’s trash may, indeed, be another’s treasure or so they say.
Which, in around about way, brings us to today’s scripture. To say the least, this is an odd side of Jesus. Our picture of Jesus is always one of generosity. We see or want to see the Jesus who heals, whose compassion is legendary; the one who breaks down barriers of suspicion and prejudice, not someone who erects them. So, who is this Jesus? This one seems harsh and unfeeling as he turns the Canaanite woman away or at least, tries to turn her away. To put it not too subtly, he treats her like trash giving in to the age old discrimination between his people and hers.
But, her persistence is admirable. She reminds Jesus that she and her daughter are not scraps of paper thrown hastily away and without much thought. They, too, are beloved children of God. And so, Jesus, caught up in admiration of her faith, offers a word of grace; “Woman, great is your faith!”, and her daughter is healed, as Matthew’s states, “instantly”.
There could be two possibilities as to why Jesus changes his mind. The first may not seem obvious but it could be another unique way to carry a message to his watching disciples and others – a teaching moment. In this scenario, he doesn’t change his mind because he never felt negatively toward the Canaanite woman. He lets her translate God’s truth and honors her by recognizing her faith. She gets it right. She and her daughter are legitimately God’s children too.
The other possibility is Jesus, in a moment of human frailty, does fall prey to those age old prejudices and is corrected by divine intervention in the form of a woman’s need for her daughter’s healing and an appeal to him for help. She reminds him of his true mission and call. Either fits and both can speak to us of an ultimate truth…the rightness or wrongness of our actions is determined by a power greater than ourselves. God loves; we are called to love in like manner.
Perhaps this encounter with someone outside the chosen nation expands Jesus inclusion of all of God’s children in the mission for which he was sent. Our hint that this may be so comes at the end of Matthew’s gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This, too, is our mission, our call and God’s claim on our lives as followers of Jesus Christ…to follow Jesus in all we do and say. There is no value in looking down on someone with scorn and assigning them the insult… “You are trash, less than me, not worth the effort.”
Our stories, our faith journey begins with someone recognizes our worth as a child of God. As we pass along the streets, highways, sidewalks and paths that make up our lives, we travel with others who have needs and hopes, joys and sorrows much like ours. Faith is really about connecting and here, in this story, is a strong example of what can happen when we respond to another as Jesus did with the frightened mother of an ill child…there was healing, hope and hearts were touched and changed. Amen.