Sermon Pentecost proper18B
Jesus Acts Like a Jerk or Social Justice?
I hardly know where to start. Last week Jesus is calling those who discriminate based on social economic status hypocrites and today he is acting like his own description of a hypocrite by dismissing a woman pleading for the life of her child. Really, because of her ethnicity? How mysterious.
And then, Jesus goes to the next town and gives some poor guy from Sidon a wet willy.
And, as it often does, Proverbs reads like a fortune cookie: A good name is more desirable than great riches.
And James reminds us to not show favoritism toward the rich and beautiful as the consequences are pretty bad if you do. Sometimes I feel like the lectionary is a mystery to unpack.
So, is the lesson today about Jesus being a jerk, or is this a moment to explore social justice in context to our faith in God and responsibility as Christians?
Let’s start with the Woman from Tyre. Please indulge me as I tell the story my way. Warning! I took some liberties.
It was Labor Day weekend. Jesus and his friends were worn out, tired and hungry. They had just walked away from a serious scholarly debate with a group of adversarial Pharisees about lofty subjects such as hypocrisies in how The Law is honored, and how the tenets of faith and tradition can actually work against each other. Basically, Jesus probably used a great deal of patience when working with Pharisees. He needed a break, a sabbath if you will. And since it was a three-day weekend, they headed way up North to Tyre. They didn’t realize it at the time, but this town is so far North it is barely on the Biblical map.
They were invited into a hospitable home of a believer who provided a comfortable retreat for the travelers. I imagine it would have been an honor to provide lodging for Jesus and his friends. Remember Jesus is tired and cranky (because of the problematic Pharisees) and he wanted to be left alone to eat and preach peacefully to his captivated hosts. He even says, “don’t tell anyone I am here.”
That’s when the Greek woman comes into the house begging Jesus to save her sick daughter. Jesus dismisses her. He tells her he is preaching to his believers (probably Jews) and if he has any energy left after he gives the bread of life to his people, she might get some, maybe.
And she says, “Are you kidding me Jesus? I am begging for scraps as is my station. Is your bread of life something I must compete for? Is God’s love and mercy a commodity of short supply?
Jesus stops. He looks up at the woman and says, “You are the one who is right, I was wrong to treat you as anyone other than a child of God. You too are given the gift of life” You are also right that the bread of life is abundant. It is your inheritance as much as it is my host’s inheritance. I hear you. Your daughter is well. Go to her now and know you are a child of God.”
Am I wrong to believe that Jesus was challenged by this woman to see her as an equal? Or was Jesus playing a game with her feelings to make her give the right answer to get the Grand Prize, God’s mercy. The later is impossible as our salvation is a gift of grace, not earned with cleverness.
Maybe the lesson today this that it is easy to speak of social justice and equality, and harder in practice.
James is reminding us to be careful how to treat the poor because in the end they will inherit the Kingdom. This reminds me of Bill Gates quote to “be careful how you treat co-workers and subordinates for someday they may be your boss.”
It is interesting to consider the account documented in Mathew 11:22, stating that shortly after Jesus’s encounter with the woman in Tyre and the man in Sidon Jesus finds himself again engaged in intellectual dialogue with Pharisees, this time Jesus states, “But I say to you that Tyre and Sidon will have it better off on Judgment Day than you.” Matthew 11: 22.
Maybe Jesus learned something that day. Maybe he learned that actually being all he preached is hard for humans to pull off? It is hard. I am all about social justice. I know all the right liberal verbiage, I believe I am on the right side of history regarding my worldview and dedication to human rights, equality, antidiscrimination and basic humanity toward all people. I try to not be a racist or homophobe. I try to be respectful to all and listen to the needs of others. But sometimes it is really tough to do.
I am angry at many types of people right now. I don’t know if I can listen to some points of view out there. God know this about me. We talk about it.
I pray, God, forgive me for my hateful thoughts toward those whom I believe to be ignorant and misguided people.
Hear me Lord!
I want to express my faith honestly. I sincerely want to show others the mercy you show me. But it is almost impossible right now and I can so easily get stuck in my own righteous indignation.
Hear me Lord!
Sometimes I think I am better than other people because I make better choices and make earnest attempts to use the right gender pronouns when others won’t even try.
Hear me Lord!
I got vaccinated. My vaccination is a loving action toward my neighbor and myself. And other Christians have not. And I am annoyed and mad at them.
Hear me Lord!
I am heart-broken about the people of Afghanistan and Haiti and Louisiana, but those who are not in the news receive little attention from my heart. And I am angry at those who are exploiting these people’s pain by placing misdirected blame for political purposes.
Hear my Lord!
I am angry at those who deny climate change, and those who use words like “race card”.
I am an arrogant, self-righteous liberal who is loved by God.
Lord, help me love others by your example!
Help them to Love me!
Listen to my prayer.
Despite my remark about the fortune cookie, Proverbs 22 is speaking of integrity. It means that Intelligence, wealth, beauty and power cannot bring integrity. That is the work of every person regardless of their circumstances. Integrity is being who God created one to be.
You and I may be gifted with critical thinking skills and a spot-on worldview, but other people will excel were we fail. The truth is, you and I are mature enough, wise enough and kind enough to listen to other’s point of view while maintaining our own integrity. We don’t have to agree, just love.
When we listen, we learn, grow and even change; and when we listen, and don’t judge, we don’t look and act like arrogant jerks. That is grace.
In the Gospel story a woman helps Jesus listen; in the second story Jesus helps a man listen.
Today we are called to listen. Listen to the world crying out to us for assistance and mercy. Listen to the pleading sounds of people in pain. They are all around us.
And sometimes we call on God to hear us, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
We say it again and again.
Is God listening every time?
Is God hearing us now?
I don’t know.
I think so.
What I know is that it is time for real dialog.
Let’s try this week to put our own ideas aside, and try to listen to those we often refuse to give audience. Whoever they are.
We are reminded today that the truth, and the fun, preside within the mystery of God.
If we really begin to listen, we are certain to gain something that God has been waiting for us hear all along.