Proper 15a 2014: Kyrie

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus has just done verbal battle with the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. He retreats, or tries to, and that’s where we pick up the story.

Now it was improper for a woman to address a man in public. It was improper for a Greek woman, Syro-Phoenician – a pagan woman, cries out to Jesus. The “cries out” verb is the same word that Matthew uses to tell us about the desperate tone used by the blind, demons, disciples in a boat during a storm, Peter sinking in the sea, crowds saying “hosanna,” crowds calling for Jesus’ death, and Jesus in his last breath. (Leftbehindandlovingit) This is a cry of desperation, of life and death, of glory and seemingly unmitigated defeat. It is a cry for mercy.

Have you ever felt that desperate? Insistent? Demanding? We shout out to whoever will listen. To our Lord and our God. We have been taught, many of us, from the time that we are very young that “all we have to do” is ask Jesus for help … and Jesus will help us. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” We might not like to be reminded that the bible also tells us about this Jesus.

This Jesus does not send the woman away, even when his disciples beg him to. The woman’s shouting, begging, is driving them crazy. “Send her away!”

We notice that Jesus does not send the woman away. This insolent (brave) pagan, Gentile woman who shouts at Jesus is dismissed, however, with his words. She who cries out in a desperate voice, who is drowning in agony over her daughter, is not physically sent away. “At least” Jesus responds. But it really ticks me off. It is not what we expect from our Jesus. This is not what I expect … from Jesus.

She doesn’t back down. Way to go, woman! I wonder if we have ever been mad enough, outraged enough, to do battle with Jesus. To so overcome our expectations of “perfect Jesus” that we finally get real and honest … with Jesus. Look what happens when we do battle.

This woman is the ONLY ONE who argues with Jesus and wins. The only one. We do not know why Jesus insulted her, calls her a dog. That was a common insult for pagans, Gentiles, and it pointed out in a rather rude way their ritual uncleanness.

She doesn’t let the insult sit. She points out that even dogs can live on the scraps, that desperate need can be filled with what others throw away.

Jesus, finally, listens. He knows that he was called to be with the Israelites, the chosen people of God. This “nobody of a woman” teaches his something new. That she, too, is worthy, and can live. That faith need not fit into the written laws as understood by someone else, that the laws are written, instead, on our hearts. The laws of mercy and compassion and healing follow the rules of God, not those of scribes and Pharisees, or even of Moses or a very human Jesus.

The woman gets her miracle. Jesus heals her daughter, not through the touch of an earth-bound Savior, but through the woman’s faith in what that Savior can do. He is present even when he is absent. He heals from close at hand and from far away.

Our world needs lots of healing this week. The cries are coming from everywhere: from Canandaigua, NY, Ferguson, MO, from further upstate to a quiet and isolated people. From movie stars to those unknown, we cry out to Jesus. We wonder when he’ll hear us. I am thankful for a still voice that says “he hears.” He responds, not in the way that we might know or can imagine, but through the cries of the faithful, somehow, somewhere. Even in Canandaigua on a dirt track, for the famous and the unknown. Even in Ferguson, MO, for the hateful, the fearful, and the angry. We have to cry out in truth and to Truth alone.

In another time, I wrote a poem about “the other,” and the cries to a human Savior. I share it today:
A woman came to pray today,
In thrift shop clothes, tangled hair, and dirty feet.
I sent her away.
Surely she could not pray with me,
a priest,
or you,
an upstanding person
who knows better than to come to church
exactly as she is.

She is the Syro-Phoenician,
a gentile
a dog
who knows only that her child needs help,
even though she,
the mother,
is clearly
not a child of God.

Her shouting
Is driving us crazy
We say.
Make her go away.
There is no room
For such outlandish emotion,
In our well maintained world.

But it is her child.

Who would not wear pearls before 5
Show up in tattered clothing
And unbrushed teeth
If that might help
her child?

Our Lord
Calls her a dog,
A Gentile
In a world of Israelites.
A country girl
In a city life.

This is her child.

She wrestles with Jesus,
Does she know about Jacob wrestling with God?
Flinging Jesus’ verbal insult
To the ground.

Even the puppies under the table
Eat from the puppy dogs’ crumbs.

It is what is in our heart
That makes us clean
Even we
Who know when to wear pearls
and when to be quiet

I wonder if we know
When to throw ourselves
At the feet of our Lord

Proclaiming ourselves
children of God.

In this moment
This gospel moment
The Syro-Phoenician woman
Is a saint
Recognizing our Lord
And showing us
How passionate we can be
What faith will drive us to do

Because we, too, are children
Not hers
But God’s.

It is she
Who shows us
How to come to our Lord
Who shows us what love looks like
Even when we are
Exactly as we are.

Love seeks.
Proclaims love

Perfect Love



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