|Sunday, August 14th, 2005
Have you ever walked into a church laughing like a fool only to discover that you were at a funeral? Have you
ever prejudged someone in public only to discover later that you had the person all wrong? Have you run into
your neighbor cuddling while on a date realizing she was not with her spouse? Have you responded with a
wave and a smile to someone who was really waving to someone behind you? Have you ever run into your
rector in a restaurant on a Sunday that you decided to sleep in. Surely we have all had our faces flush from
embarrassing moments especially when breaking social taboos.
Today’s gospel story may have been that kind of faux pas on the part of the Cannanite woman. Her single
to have her daughter healed. She did not concern herself with any of the social barriers that stood in the way.
If she would have, surely she would have found it embarrassing.
From a socio-cultural perspective it is not a coincidence that the gospel is having Jesus respond to someone
on the outs with the Jewish authorities. At least as far as the Jews of his day were concerned. The Cannanites
were definitely on the outs. They were considered as low life not warranting the attention of the Jews. The
Cannanites worshipped a variety of gods and whose ideas the Lord in the Old Testament opposed. They were
known characters to be shunned and left alone. You surely want your kid keeping company with the likes of
them. The other issue or barrier presenting itself was that this Cannanite was a woman. So in that time she
would have been considered to be extremely rude in her request of Jesus a Jewish man.
In this light we would then understand better Jesus’ somewhat unkind response. His response really fit the
culture well. And given the Cannanite woman’s tenacity and courage the boundaries were broken and her
daughter was healed.
Now in most of the gospel stories where there is healing. It usually comes at the request of the family or the
person themselves. It comes at the beckoning, excruciating plea of one who seeks healing from Jesus. You
never see Jesus going out of his way to heal some one passively sitting on the side of the road minding his
own business. It demanded a request and it always results in a faith response. Faith is the key and the reason
How might faith operate today?
We often pray for the sick and those who are suffering physical or psychological illness. Yet, how often do we
stop to pray for healing for the systemic sin that permeates our culture?
There still remain barriers in our lives, although perhaps somewhat more subtle. There remain divisions among
races, socio economic levels, Try going to an airport in the US with a turban on your head? How would
someone from the poorer side of the tracks be treated at a country club? Ask any immigrant to this country
how they are treated when they have yet to acquire the English language? Granted it is hard to relate when
you may have never had the experience of being the culture, race, economic class, and religion on the outs.
The miracles of Jesus stand as a testimony to the powers that God does not allow human divisions to stand in
the way of His love. That is not to say it is easy but in the end faith in God’s love will prevail.
In planning this sermon, a woman I worked with in the family mentoring program came to mind. She lived in the
projects. You know those places. Every city has them. Most of the crowd who live on the right sides of the
tracks never really get to see them. Yes we do have them here in Phenix City. This section 8 housing,
subsidized by our taxes pay for cinder block and steel, smelling of the toxic fumes from rat poison and other
chemicals sprayed to keep down the bug population covering up the smells of human waste and stale beer
Doors bolted with several locks windows barred, lots of children, and yes a great deal of drugs and guns.
Violence erupts as if scripted. Nighttime comes it is not safe to leave your home. A mixed cultural community
usually of the latest wave of immigrants seeking to get ahead, all poor, all waiting to get out and into something
of their own, all vying for the same public services, spelling even more difficulty with tensions rising high as
does the hot summer afternoons. A powder keg ready to explode.
People in this place are often trapped with no way to get out of their predicaments and move beyond this cycle
of poverty. They are reminded of their fate at each and every turn.
It was in such conditions that I came to know C, an African American woman who was the mother of six children
ranging from ages 12 to 2. She lived with the children’s father but as of yet had not married. She was in
Her addiction to cocaine began as a young woman following the death of her mom.
C being the oldest daughter forfeited her opportunity to finish school in order to take care of her cancer-ridden
mother. When her mother died she was devastated and alone. She turned to cocaine to quiet her pain.
At her lowest point she was at the brink of losing her own children to the state. It was then that she turned her
life over to God and found assistance and entered into treatment. God listened to her prayers and the
treatment held. She soon was clean and going to meetings as a sign of her commitment to recovery.
Now I suppose there would be those who would have judged her by the color of her skin, by the projects she
lived in, by the history of substance abuse and conclude that she is not worthy of our time or mercy. In fact
most of us would rather she didn’t exist. Yet if you looked beyond the social boundaries you would discover a
woman of great faith and a strong capacity to love.
I had the honor of attending her wedding to the father of her children. I had the honor of seeing her begin a
new business of selling plus sized clothing (she was tiny and petite and thus not the best salesperson in this
I saw her generous heart open when her neighbor got herself into crack and completely fell apart. She took
the children into her home, all five of them, while her neighbor sought treatment.
This is the same tenacity I believe the Cannanite woman of today’s gospel projected.
It surely pays to be proactive. It pays not to allow the boundaries of prejudice to keep us from being enriched
by the culture of the other. People we should hold up as heroes today are those that did not settle for the
status quo. Rather they fought injustice by acting just themselves. They chose love over hate. They did not
allow themselves to be silenced but spoke with full mind and heart. It is to such as these that Jesus promised
the kingdom. Amen.
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