Lent II: Jeremiah 17:5-10; I Thessalonians 4:1-8; Matthew 15:21-28
There is a limit to what we can all do. Even if you want to say yes to everything you are asked to do then it is not necessarily sensible to do so. You all know the story about the vicar who didn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings, always said yes to anything and ended up eating four Christmas dinners one year. It is surely better to do a few things well than lots badly. When I was at school I was fascinated by the life of Leonardo da Vinci, probably best known for his painting of the Mona Lisa with her feint smile. He wasn’t just a talented painter though. He was a sculptor, leather worker, chemist, metalworker, mathematician, inventor, geologist, anatomist, engineer and general scientist. In his notebooks he literally flies from subject to subject; quite remarkably he imagined things such as the bicycle, aeroplane, helicopter and parachute five hundred years early. In his short life time there simply was not time for him to follow it all up and one wonders that if he had focussed on just one or two areas what other wonders he would have achieved.
Jesus, in his earthly ministry does not make that mistake. He is highly focussed on what needs to happen. Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted about three years and He knew that there was a lot to achieve in that time. Jesus had a mission to tell the Jewish people that God’s kingdom is at hand. It was at hand because He, Jesus, offered an invitation to begin the start of God’s long-awaited reign by following Him and his programme. For Jesus the kingdom was coming not in a single move, but in stages, of which his public career was one, his death and resurrection another and a still future consummation another still.
I will have been here five years this summer and there is so much I have yet to tackle properly. I’m not planning on moving imminently, so I do have time to follow things up. Jesus, however, had very little time, so he had to be focussed. He knew that His message was unpopular with the Jewish leaders and that sooner or later His enemies would want to silence Him. He knew that it was His vocation to give His life, on the cross, for us. The fact He was pushed for time is why Jesus focussed on sharing his message with the Jews first. They were the chosen people and He wanted them to know that kingdom was at hand. His ministry was pretty much limited to the boundaries ofPalestinefor that reason. The Israelites needed to hear the good news before it was too late and then, after His death and resurrection, the good news would go out to the whole world. That’s why He appeared toSt Paul, outsideDamascusand made it Paul’s lifetime’s task to bring in the Gentiles.
In today’s Gospel we heard that Jesus was inTyreandSidon. This is a rare visit outside Jewish territory to two non-Jewish towns on theMediterraneancoast. Jesus has gone there not to preach and teach, but to lie low for a while after saying some risky things, which had got up the noses of some of the leading lights ofJerusalem. The last thing Jesus wants is publicity when He needs to focus on sharing His message with the Jews. Consequently when a Canannnite woman, who has obviously heard of Him, seeks Him out and makes a public scene asking Him to heal her daughter it is not what He wants and He answers ‘not a word.’
Jesus is not being cruel or heartless; He simply knows that He cannot deal with everything. His vocation was to share the good news of God’s coming reign; not to be an itinerant medical missionary. All too often we make the mistake of creating an image of Jesus as the universal problem solver. If Jesus was that He would have travelled the known world and presumably set up some first century version of aHarley Streetpractice inRome.
Nevertheless, in the end, Jesus does briefly allow Himself to be deflected from His call to share the good news with the Jews first. He tells the woman that it is not fair to take the bread intended for the children; meaning the Jews, and share it with Gentile dogs. Jews could be quite rude about Gentiles and Gentiles had some fairly choice things to say about Jews too. The woman, however, reminds him that even dogs may eat the crumbs which fall from the table, so actually they are already sharing. Jesus, who knew that very soon it would become apparent that Gentiles also had a claim on the love and mercy of the one true God was clearly moved by the fact that she had already detected that not just the Jews, but that all people were to be God’s chosen people. Later Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that this has begun when he describes how a Roman centurion, having seen Jesus die on the cross, was filled with awe and said
‘Truly this was the Son of God.’
Every time we celebrate Holy Communion we are recalled to the foot of that cross where Jesus takes on death for all people. Holy Communion brings us close to God, but it also should make us one as a people. All over the world this morning churches are celebrating this service and we are one with them as we come into Jesus’ presence. Receiving Holy Communion is a thing of grace. You and I don’t deserve to be loved by God, but He infuses our offering of bread and wine with His love, so that you and I may be filled with His love and be more loving to one another. Every Communion offers us the fresh touch of Christ.
Christ wants His followers to be one. Later in this service I will say: We break this bread to share in the body of Christ and you answer,
Though we are many, we are one body,
because we all share in one bread.
As I said at the start we can’t do everything; so use this season of Lent to focus on what is important. Christ wants us to be one and as He agreed that the Canannite woman might share in His bread rejoice that we too are called to share bread and wine, infused by his love, so that in receiving His body and blood we may be one with God and each other.
Posted By: valerie