Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works…
Make room in your hearts and for the World…
It seems to me that this is the message we get from today’s readings. Make room in your hearts for God and for the World
Today’s Gospel is tough to hear. Why would Jesus sound SO harsh.
The Gospel of Matthew is a Gospel written to an early Jewish-Christian community. They are primarily Jews - and a lot of the emphasis in this Gospel, is that the message of Jesus Christ is not solely for the Jewish community, but is made for the whole world.
This Gospel includes the feeding of the 5000 as well as the feeding of the 4000. They are nearly identical stories, yet the second gathering of the 4000 is in a Gentile region.
I also always love numbers when they appear in scripture. They often give us clues. In the feeding of the 5000 Jews we have 12 baskets left over. While in the feeding of the 4000 Gentiles we have 7 baskets left over.
It is very likely that the 12 baskets represent the fulfillment of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus was going after the lost sheep of Israel. Now the number seven is almost always used to describe completion. Jesus message is not complete until he has gathered all of the peoples of the Earth. (Seven baskets).
This passage with Jesus and the Canaanite woman is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry between these two feeding stories.
Now what proceeds their encounter is a teaching about what “defiles.”
The strict orthodox tradition believed in certain dietary restrictions and held to purity laws and rituals.
And what follows their encounter is the feeding of the 4000; a clear indication that Jesus and his message is meant for more than the select Jewish community.
Jesus teaches that it is not what comes into the body that defiles us, but what we harbor in our hearts.
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Purity is not to be sought from the outside. Purity is an interior state. It is found in the mind and the heart; that singleness of mind and heart, where we perceive unity, rather than separation. From this space love flows.
Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is an immediate demonstration of this concept.
His initial remarks appear very harsh to us. And what happens? We respond with what?
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us?”
Aren’t we moved? (the disciples and readers of this scene) Aren’t our hearts stirred to cry out in solidarity with the woman?! We know what is called for here… and I believe Jesus knows that we know. A singleness of heart…It is our knee jerk response: Save her! Of course you will save her daughter, of course we know you are the Messiah for the whole world…
That is the turning point in the disciples’ ministry. That is the great conversion (not of God’s heart) but of those who listen for the heartbeat of God.
His message yet to come is:
Your feeding of the 5000 will be completed by the feeding of the 4000 who are Gentiles. Who are “Other” and who are equally deserving!
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.”
Paul in Romans is also trying to convey this idea, saying, “I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” He speaks of this inclusivity in quite odd terms:
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
It sounds strange, but he is trying to put to words the breadth of God’s mercy.
Paul is saying, it is not a bad thing that God’s Mercy is meant for all…because it is by the very fact of the need itself, that we come to know that we are all deserving of God’s Mercy. It opens us up personally and to others.
It reminded me of The First Beatitude:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are looking at this passage in our current book study. Cynthia Bourgealt presents this beatitude from a wisdom perspective:
Blessed are we all, who are poor in spirit, because in this state we are actually available to receive the gifts of God. We can be filled with God’s mercy and love. That’s what Paul is getting at here.
After all, Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician,
but those who are sick.”
If we are filled up with ourselves and our own self- righteousness there is no room for God’s grace.
The Canaanite Woman offers us an example of this need and this receptivity even while Jesus makes the outrageous claim that she and her daughter are not worthy of healing.
He equates them as being as low as dogs…
But she immediately responds with a plea that even the dogs eat crumbs from the master’s table.
She is ready to be filled…
She is famished…in fact:
Her yearning is so great. She is an open book, completely receptive.
And this conversation is meant to be overheard by the disciples and by us.
She has faith that even God’s mercy is powerful enough in a dose …as small as a bread crumb.
Does this remind you of anything else?
Faith as small as a mustard seed?
Faith as small as a mustard seed can indeed bloom into a massive tree.
It is that tree in which we are a part, the branches of which Jesus is the central core: the vine “Grafted in our hearts…”
The message of Jesus’ is meant for all people. All people who come to him, receptive, Poor of Spirit, and “imprisoned’ as Paul describes it.
Faith will set us free.
Faith will help us to be healed, fed, and nourished to grow beyond our small exclusive identities… to grow into the knowledge that we are all one: That “singleness of heart” that Jesus describes - and that we pray at the end of every service.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Empty yourself and Open your hearts and minds to the love and knowledge of God.
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations...
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.