Sermon Notes -- August 11 & 14,
The kingdom of heaven is like
treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid;
then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that
field. (Matt. 13:44)
Sometimes one needs to undertake a treasure hunt to find the
treasure in the Gospel story. Where
is the good news in a story where Jesus basically calls a woman a
"dog"? Let's go on a treasure
hunt. For this passage has transformed for me from one of the most
puzzling passages in
Scripture to one of the most important and compelling. Here are the
Clue #1: In Mark's version of this story, this woman's
ethnic heritage is called "Syrophoenician"
(Mark 7:26). In Matthew, she is called "Canaanite," which is out of
the time frame. It's like
calling a modern Norwegian person a Viking.
- Why Canaanite? What time would that go back to? Answer the
time of Joshua and the
conquest of the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.
- And keep in mind two things:
- "Joshua" and "Jesus" are the same name in the Hebrew;
- that conquest we might call today a "genocide" -- one of the
more uneasy places for us in
- So is Matthew trying to bring us back to that time of conquest
with this new Joshua (Jesus)?
Clue #2: In the remainder of Matthew 15, Jesus
(Joshua) heals people and miraculously feeds
another crowd (the first feeding was in Matthew 14). In Matthew
15:31, Matthew comments,
"And they praised the God of Israel." Does this mean that Jesus
(Joshua) is now in Gentile
country? Why else would he specify "God of Israel" if it wasn't
foreigners praising another
Clue #3: Playing the numbers game is a common way
to leave clues or ciphers. In the first
feeding of the five thousand, Jesus (Joshua) takes five loaves and
two fish and twelve baskets are
left over. In the second feeding, of four thousand this time
(Matthew 15:29-39), Jesus takes seven
loaves and a few fish and seven loaves are left over. Seven has
become the significant number.
Why seven? Twelve is significant for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Why is seven significant? Let's
go back to the time of conquest (genocide) of Canaan. Moses is
speaking to the twelve tribes of
Israel as Joshua is about to lead them into the Promised Land, and
When the LORD your God brings you
into the land that you are about to enter and
occupy, and he clears away many nations before you -- the
Hittites, the Girgashites, the
Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the
Jebusites, seven nations
mightier and more numerous than you -- and when the LORD your God
gives them over
to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them.
Make no covenant with
them and show them no mercy. (Deut. 7:1-2)
We've found the treasure! Haven't we? Jesus, the second Joshua,
has come into the land of
Canaanites to again conquer, but this time with mercy. He heals
Think of all the images and experiences of God which are more like
the first Joshua. We
Americans used to embrace a passage like Deut. 7, where all the
peoples who occupied the land
were conquered. Manifest Destiny, we used to call it. So the
genocidal God of Deut 7 suited us
just fine. But since the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis we have
been questioning that God. We
have been repenting our own genocide of native peoples in this land.
We have been confronting some of these images of God in a book like
Love Wins, by Rob Bell,
images of a punishing God who sends souls to hell for eternal
damnation. How many of us grew
up fearing such a God who does not show mercy?
Brothers and sisters, this is where an anthropology, an
understanding of who we are as human
beings, becomes so vital. We can begin to understand that the images
and experiences of a
merciless God are a false god that we human beings needed to create.
It is a false god that goes
way back to our beginnings as a species. As we needed to justify our
punishment of those we
deemed evil, as we needed to justify our slaughters of peoples in
conquests, we created these
false gods. So the true God of mercy who lovingly created us was
buried behind those false gods.
There was for centuries and aeons a huge gulf between the true God
of love and our made up
images of gods of conquest and blood sacrifice.
For the true God to be able to bridge that vast gulf was going to
take centuries, beginning with a
covenant of love made to someone, Abraham and Sarah. And even among
the descendants of
Abraham and Sarah, there was a bridge-building process that didn't
become complete until their
descendant, Joshua/Jesus of Nazareth, helped us to know the God of
unconditional love in the
flesh. He did things like go into the territory of the first Joshua,
not only showing mercy through
feeding and healing, but also letting himself be conquered by a
Canaanite woman of great faith.
Finally, he let himself, as the Messiah, be conquered by those
conquering powers of the day, the
Roman Empire. But it was all so that we might finally divorce
ourselves from those false gods of
conquest to know the true God of Creative Love.
After 2000 years of Christianity, many or most of those years
lapsing back into our addiction to
the false gods of conquest, we Christians might now be in the
situation of the Jews in St. Paul's
time. In our epistle reading, Paul laments that it was apparently
the role of God's chosen people
to become disobedient so that God might show forth the divine mercy
to all. We Christians have
now been the disobedient ones.
Are we ready through prayer and worship and loving service to hear
God say to each of us, as he
said to Jesus of Nazareth, "You are my beloved son/daughter. In you
I am well pleased"? Are we
ready yet to embrace the true God of love so that we might
unambiguously show forth the God of