Woman with Attitude                                

15 Pentecost B

September 6, 2015

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s bulletin cover shows a woman with attitude.  If you listened well to the gospel as it was read you’ll know that she’s the star of the first story in the gospel—she’s the woman from Syro-Phoenicia, up north of Palestine, who challenged Jesus’ claim that he was sent to heal and teach only the Chosen People—the Jews.

 

She also parried really well with Jesus when she took his insult and turned it to her own benefit.  Did you hear how he insulted her and her people?  He called them “dogs.”

 

And this woman replied to Jesus with incredible chutzpah that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.”

 

And that got through to Jesus, all right.  He actually seemed to appreciate her smart retort and rewarded her by healing her daughter.

 

One scholar [Matthew Skinner of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota] calls this woman the most astute theologian of the New Testament.  In other words, the way she pushed back against Jesus—and the intellectual foundation of her push-back—shows that she understood deeply the nature of God.

 

One strong characteristic of God is that God recurrently breaks through boundaries.  God pushes across and breaks down fences that keep people apart from each other and apart from God.

 

This woman knew at depth that it’s God’s business to burst out into the world to draw all people to himself.  Just think of some of the passages in the Old Testament that show God reaching out—one unforgettable one is the prophecy of Isaiah, giving God’s words that the Temple in Jerusalem will be a house of prayer for all people, not just the Jews [Isaiah 2: 1-4, 56:6-8].  And she knew at depth / that if Jesus were truly about God’s business, he also would be drawing ALL people to himself.

 

She caught him with his compassion down.  And she reminded him why he was born—to embody God’s expanding heart of love and acceptance and to break down barriers—even in Gentile country, in Phoenicia, well north of Israel’s borders.

 

And it’s also in Gentile country—this time east of Palestine—that Jesus encountered the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Note that this is our second story, following close on the heels of his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman.  And he healed him with his own spittle, and told him to “be opened.”

 

Being opened.  This is a strong theme in each of our stories today.  Be opened.

 

Jesus was willing to be opened, even though it seemed to take him by surprise.

 

It seems to me that being willing to be shown where we can be opened, where we can grow, is something that’s asked of us every day of our lives.  Once we stop growing and stretching, we might as well be dead.

 

Be willing to be shown where you could enlarge some of your own boundaries and borders.  Where you could break down some of your own defenses--your own fences--for the simple reason that it may be time to do it.

 

When have you been willing to be opened?  When have you allowed your personal set of rules to be challenged, and maybe to be changed?

 

Here’s an easy example:  I was thinking of one of our daughters—the one who had the security blanket that she named Bibi.  She was totally unwilling and unable to separate from that blanket for the first 8 years of her life.  Then she realized herself (with no urging from us) that it was time to grow out of her attachment to this thing that brought comfort.  She decided to leave it home when we went on vacation that year.  She knew it was time.  And she was open to entering into more mature stage of her life.

 

I was thinking, too, of my own conversion experience.  I’ve told the story before:  I was trained as a scientist and had a really hard time with many aspects of Christian faith.  Then, in a way that defies logic, I knew I was being pulled away from that scientific skepticism and pulled toward the depth of mystery.  Eventually it was irresistible, and the skepticism just had to take the back seat.  My fences that kept belief in the Trinity outside came tumbling down, and in came Jesus with all the personal disruption that followed.  And I’ve been happy and settled and disrupted ever since.

 

So how about you?  I’d love to hear your own stories about when you, too were opened.  And how it’s been / since then.

 

Being opened is being changed.  It occurred to me that our theme for this year’s stewardship campaign fits in well with these readings, because it’s about being changed, and acknowledging that one of the church’s missions is to help change people or their lives for the better—whether that refers to us as individuals or to people around the world that we haven’t even met.  The theme for the stewardship campaign is simple—here it is:  “Changing Lives Together.”  We know we’re about God’s work when we help people change their lives for the good.  And being opened is the first step toward that goal.

 

I hope you can join with me in thanking God for this woman with attitude who was so important in helping Jesus open up to a broader sense of his mission in the world.  May each one of us inherit a little of this woman’s chutzpah, too, as we help others open up to God.  

Amen.