This week I saw a show on TV, and I think the name of the show was "Taboo," but I'm not 100% sure. It is a series, I know that, and the show that night was about leprosy. We tend to relegate leprosy to the pages of the Old and New Testaments and forget that it is still a problem today. What surprised me about the disease, other than the fact that it's only contagious while it's active, was the fact that most of the people affected by it were more concerned about being rejected by friends, neighbors, or even family than they were about the physical effects.
I'm beginning to pick up on a theme this week, not only from some of the readings from the Life Journal devos, but also from the scripture text that I'm using this Sunday. That theme is inclusion, or maybe a better way of saying it is, not excluding. I've talked about it before, but this week, it's everywhere I look; from TV shows, to the time I spend in devotion, to conversations with friends, and even the lectionary text for Sunday. OK God, I get it. You want me to spend a little time talking about inclusion.
Then this morning, there it was. This passage breaks my heart. It's the one place in scripture where I'd like to take Jesus by the shoulders, give him a good hard shake, and ask, "What are you doing?" It's in Matthew 15, and here's what it says:
"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession!"
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
The woman came and knelt down before him. "Lord, help me," she cried.
He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Ok, maybe I'm the only one who has a problem with that. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it sure sounds to me like Jesus, not only wasn't going to heal the woman's daughter, but totally ignored her at first; Only because of who she was, well, rather, who she wasn't . That's just rude. Yeah, he was Jewish. Yeah, she was a Canaanite. In the eyes of most first century Jews, Canaanites were dogs, so socially speaking, Jesus was doing no wrong. But this is Jesus, the Son of God...sent to usher in a new world order...to tear down the old...to destroy those social and cultural systems that kept the dogs under the table...to bring God's kingdom on earth.
She wasn't asking anything for herself. She wasn't after gold coins, or shekels; she wasn't asking for a better home; she was asking that her daughter be released from her demons. Come on Jesus, help her out.
You see, these are the passages we skip over because we don't want to, or aren't sure how to, deal with them. Jesus totally ignored this woman as she followed him, begging that her daughter be healed. What do we do with that? And more importantly, who are the folks we are ignoring because they are not like us? You see, these are the things I think about, and even with the training I've had, they are still the things I struggle with.
I have a dear friend who told me this week that she desperately wants to get back in church, and I said, "Go then." She told me that she was afraid to go. I'm not sure anyone has ever said that to me. Afraid to go to church? Why should anyone have to be afraid to go to church? The long and short of it is this; she is worried that her past will cause some people in whatever church she tries to look down on her. The truth is, in some churches, she's right, and that breaks my heart.
It should not be that way. For fear of sounding like a broken record, the family of God should be the one group in the world that no one should be afraid of. But even the family of God has some very small minded people in it. 2000 years ago, Jesus was acting well within the social norms. Today, we have to look not through social norms, but through kingdom eyes.
So, wherever you choose to worship this week, do me this favor. There may be someone show up at your doors for the first time. Recognize the amount of guts it took for them to get there. Welcome them in, no questions asked, and feed them more than crumbs from the floor. It is our responsibility to make sure no one ever feels like a dog under the table. Only then can we be engaged in kingdom work.