August 16, 2020

Pentecost 11A

Dogs or Children

GOSPEL

Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 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.”]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

 

SERMON

To say that we all have a dark side should come as no surprise to anyone.  We once spoke about sin as the expression of our dark side.  We once acknowledged with some frequency the truth that we are all sinners in need of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. In recent years, while that word sin has come to be disowned by too many, the behaviors that make sin so horribly visible have certainly not disappeared from sight.

Last week our dark side, and the sin of which it is capable, once again raised its ugly specter in Charlottesville, Virginia.  This sin – the sin of racism, the sin of anti-Semitism, the sin of nationalistic xenophobia – do not seem to die.  It is a virus that resists extinction.  It exists in the best of us in the form of implicit white bias, and religious or national exceptionalism, and in the worse of us, as white supremacy, religious intolerance, and the deformed patriotism that parades itself in those pick up trucks that fly oversized American flags in their beds.

The dark side in its many expressions does not need to be imported from the outside as some public voices have opined in a futile effort to explain the happenings in Charlottesville.  While some white supremacists may have traveled from elsewhere to join the hate rally in Charlottesville, there was certainly a base already present in that city, as there is in every city and town in this nation.

And let’s be clear, it is not a matter of another rational opinion, or another point of view, or another philosophical expression that has a right to air itself in the public square under the protection of the first amendment.

Hate speech, borne of a pathological mind and malformed conscience, that seeks a venue to express itself, or a license to parade itself or to rally in a public square, must be judged through the lens of historical experience to have no rights and should be dealt with accordingly.

We place ourselves in the greatest peril if we forget the Holocaust and how it too began with speech.  Whether it was the vilification of Jews from the pulpits of Christian churches as Christ-killers, or the rhetoric of political leaders in the public square who branded them as enemies of the Arian nation, the hate speech and the killing words found receptive soil in enough German hearts and in collaborators throughout the world, to cause the genocide of six million innocent men, women and children.  We can sin and sin grievously by our thoughts and words, in addition to our deeds.  And in the order of things, our thoughts and words ordinarily precede the evil deeds we do.   As Jesus said, “It is what comes out of our mouths that defiles us.”

No one has a right to put innocent people at risk by using hateful words that would scapegoat them and set them up as targets.

To say that the owner of the Bedminster Golf Club is guilty about this in spades would be a gross understatement.

His uncensored hate speech over these past few years has fueled and emboldened minions of the like minded to assert, claim and demand a public forum for the evil that they bear within their minds and hearts.  He apparently still does not get it, as he does not get a lot of things.  It is not a matter of two equally righteous and equally entitled and equal sides capable of behaving badly.

To hoist the banner of white supremacy, pseudo-Christian hegemony and perverse patriotism is evil – it always results in the abuse, persecution, violation and death of the innocent.  It is as evil as branding all our undocumented neighbors as murders, rapists and drug dealers.  It is not the free speech that owns inalienable rights.  It is hate speech that must be brought to justice.

And if we fail to bring it to justice in our courts, if we fail to impeach this man who claims presidential privilege, it will certainly be brought to judgment before the throne of God. If the candidate, who flew into the White House on the wings of hatred, and who claims to be a Christian, and claims the Bible to be his favorite book, that he has apparently never read, and who in a stunning display of hubris, devoid of conscience, admitted that he doesn’t ask God for forgiveness, is not brought to justice in our courts for inciting violence, he will certainly be brought to judgment on the last day for these crimes against humanity.

This so-called president, in being a public voice for the abuse of Muslims, women, sexual minorities, immigrants and refugees, is a blind guide leading the blind.  He stretches his right to free speech to include hate speech that he directs at multiple targets.  It must be called out for what it is, it must be protested in the streets, it must be confronted it in next year’s mid-term elections.

In this morning’s Gospel Matthew presents Jesus in a most appalling fashion.  He does so to make a most important point.  In the story of the Canaanite woman, seeking a cure for her daughter who is demonically possessed, Matthew has Jesus assume a posture with which the majority of his audience, at that time in their history, would have had no problem identifying, and embracing as their own, and doing so without apology.   The faith community out of which Jesus came and the people who were his ethnic kin were a nationalistic and Xenophobic lot.

God’s chosen people had taken their election by God and its mandate to be a light to the Gentiles and servant to all the peoples of the earth by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with their God and turned it into a killing lie, that flew under the banner of what today we would refer to as exceptionalism.

They saw themselves as better than everyone else, as superior to every other nation, as a tribe and a race that owed nothing to anyone.  They did not want to be liberated from their sins as a people, but only to have the boot of Roman oppression lifted from their necks so that they could resume the swagger of the privileged powerful.

This desperate foreigner and frantic mother comes to Jesus to beg healing for her stricken daughter.  Jesus does not initially respond to her, as we would expect God to respond.  Instead he responds to her first by ignoring her, then by upbraiding her and then by calling her a dog.

We can almost see him looking around at his compatriots for their active and passive endorsement of His posture in her regard.  We might be taken back by what Jesus is doing.  They would have taken no notice of it being anything but entirely acceptable.  After all this woman was a foreigner, she was not one of the chosen, she had no rights and certainly no call to approach the rabbi with any expectation that he should give a damn about her and her daughter’s plight.

In the time of Jesus, if you were not one of God’s chosen people, you were a dog and should expect to be treated as such.

So Matthew has Jesus identify with the posture, the attitude, and the behaviors of His countrymen and from this place of identification, from this place into which his audience has been easily sucked without notice and certainly without protest, Jesus rewrites the script.

The existing order with its assumptions and prejudices about people who are other, people who are different, people who are foreigners, and even seen as dogs is jettisoned.  The page is turned forever.

No one is a dog.  Everyone is a child of God.  Everyone has access to God.  Everyone is recipient of God’s mercy and compassion.  No one is better than anyone else.  All of God’s children have been called to faith and all have been empowered to respond in faith.  The story ends with Jesus embracing one, who has been judged by everyone in the crowd as never to be embraced.

Jesus confirms that it is not the outsider who is to be rejected but rather that way of thinking that vilifies the other or the outsider that must be rejected as not being of God.

 

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
August 16, 2020