|Juan de Flandes, Spanish 16th Century|
“…it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:11b)
This past week I enjoyed one of the singular delights of the summer season—I had my annual reunion with my buddy and seminary classmate, Pastor Jack. Each year Jack and I meet on Long Beach Island at the Jersey Shore to stuff our faces at the Dockside Diner and indulge in a colloquy on our respective ministries, the state of Lutheranism in America, and life in general. I have to say that my friend is one of the wittiest and most erudite individuals I’ve ever met, and quite possibly the living embodiment of Martin Luther. When we get together, the verbiage always flies in a rhapsody of picturesque expressions which, as pastors, we don’t often get the chance to use around our pious parishioners.
Unfortunately, some of our expressiveness might have been a bit too picturesque for the gentle ears of beach-going youngsters seated close to us at the diner. By mutual consent, we attempted to keep our voices low and not detonate “F bombs” or pronounce epithets which might corrupt the young. After all, as Jesus warns us in the gospel lesson for Pentecost 11, Year A in the RCL (Matthew 15:10-28), what comes out of the mouth defiles.
Which brings me to this point: There was an awful lot of defilement being spewed out of the mouths of so-called “Alt Right” marchers last Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Another friend of mine suggested that, perhaps, the proper response to a demonstration of white nationalists puking hate in the public square would be to ignore them completely, not cover them in the media, and deny them the opportunity to challenge with words or fists any opposition to their sinful and disgusting rantings.
But what comes out of the mouth can defile.
The counter-protestors in Charlottesville and those who have taken to the streets since understand that such defilement cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. It is not enough to ignore the ranting of Satan. We must counter with the words of Jesus. What we say and what we allow to be said matters, and what comes out of our mouths has power to corrupt and degrade or to uplift and liberate. We cannot ignore the words of hate, and we cannot neglect the words of God’s grace.
The main part of our gospel lesson concerns a Canaanite woman who comes begging Jesus for help. She really needs it because her daughter is demonically possessed (Don’t you hate it when that happens..?) and she’s somehow got wind of the idea that Jesus can help her out. Unfortunately, she’s a foreigner. She’s not of the right nationality or religion to rate public assistance from a Hebrew rabbi. Her cries initially go unnoticed. Faithful disciples of Jesus just want her to go away and stop annoying them (v.23). Even Jesus himself tells her she doesn’t signify.
But this lady isn’t going away. Why? Because her need isn’t going away, and she’s not about to be ignored any longer. Her life and the life of her child matter.
Pastor Jack shared with me an issue he’s having with his congregation in New York. The previous pastor was extremely reluctant to allow the local community use of space in the church building. Although 12-step groups had requested to meet at the church, the pastor feared that such meetings would bring in “the wrong element.” I guess this pastor didn’t want to give what belonged to the children to the dogs. Even good Lutherans can be as blind as the Pharisees at times.
(BTW: Jack is very proud to report that his congregation seems much more willing to embrace the outsider than was their previous shepherd!)
Jesus praises the faith of the Canaanite woman. I wonder if he’s impressed by the fact she really believes if she tries long enough and loud enough and just keeps on trying—annoying as she is to the mainstream—she’ll eventually get the mercy she needs. If there’s enough love and mercy for animals, surely there’s enough for suffering human beings.
I see a whole bunch of take-aways in this story. First, Jesus once again goes counter to the culture and crosses the divide that separates “us” from “them.” In Jesus, there is only “us.” Every life matters, and it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak, or of the “haves” to care for the “have nots.”
Secondly, there’s the matter of the faithful persistence of the Canaanite mom. She’s reminding us to believe in the just outcome, and to keep on keeping on—in our prayer life, in our social activism, in our forgiveness, in our relationships, and in the work God has called us to do. Ask and it shall be given. And if it isn’t, keep on asking until it is.
Keep the faith, my dears. Thanks for reading.