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Music used for this service:
More Voices 9 “Venite, Exultemus Domino”
Words and music: Taizé Community.
Voices United 409 “Morning Has Broken”
Words: © Eleanor Farjeon, Children’s Bells, Oxford University Press. Reprinted by permission of David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Square, London W1R 4HA England.
Music: Gaelic melody. Harmony: ©1982 Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
Voices United 326 “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
Words: Charles Wesley.
Music: Carl Gotthelf Glaser, adapted and harmonized by Lowell Mason. Public Domain.
Voices United 959 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Words: Public domain. Music: David Haas © 1986 G.I.A. Publications, Inc.
Voices United 509 “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky (Here I Am, Lord)”
Words, Music, Harmony: © 1981 Daniel L. Schutte and New Dawn Music, administered by Oregon Catholic Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
Gracious and loving God,
you dare to enter into relationship with us,
call us your children, made in your image,
you call us to be a covenant people,
turning to you in our need,
upholding your law of love.
Help us to walk in your way,
praising you not just with word, but with action,
so that all peoples may be one in a kin-dom of heaven,
reconciled to each other and to you.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Prayer of Confession
merciful and mighty,
we open our hearts to you,
aware of what we need to change.
We have not always loved you with our whole hearts,
we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves,
we have participated in and benefited from systems of injustice,
we have despised your creation,
we have abused our role as stewards of the earth,
and we have done so while trusting in our own righteousness.
break our hearts of stone
and create in us a new heart for love.
In the name of Jesus,
who came that we might be free from all chains,
including those of our own making.
This is the second part of a sermon series where I want to push back against the idea that the Old Testament shows only a God of Judgement and the New Testament shows only a God of Love, by taking stories from the Hebrew Scriptures that show a God of love, and stories from the Christian scriptures, especially the gospels, not just the letters of Paul and Revelation, that challenge us and make us uncomfortable. The God of the Old Testament is a God of love and forgiveness. The God of the New Testament is a God of anger and judgement, and a faith that denies either of those two things is one that puts trust in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace:” grace that comes with no challenge, that comes with no cost to us, that does not compel us to change how we live our lives or how we engage with the world around us.
So this story. Racist Jesus.
I mean, that’s what it looks like. It looks like Jesus is being exclusive: “I am only for a privileged few,” he says. “Get out of here, you dirty gentile woman.”
And how this story has often been preached, at least in white liberal churches, is that this shows a human failing of Jesus, emphasizes his humanity, and only by the woman’s grace is his heart changed. Thus, we are called to reflect on our own prejudices and how by the grace of God through the love of our neighbour, we can change.
It might seem like a nice message, the problem is that’s not what’s happening in this story. It’s bad theology, and ultimately I think contains a horrible message for marginalized people to hear.
Every one of us who is marginalized in some way—whether because of race, religion, gender, sexuality, ability—has had the experience of being told to shut up when speaking out about our experiences of marginalization, being told to keep quiet so as to not rock the boat: the young queer person who needs to keep quiet at a holiday dinner when an older relative is saying homophobic or transphobic things, but if the young person speaks up they will be the one “ruining” Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever; the person of colour who stays silent when racist things are being said by their co-workers, because they might lose their job or be accused of disrupting the workplace. We are told that it is better to be kind in return, to hopefully change someone’s mind through kindness and grace, rather than confronting it directly; that that is what it means to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
The message in that is that marginalized people have to tolerate racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, or misogynistic abuse. Which they have been told for generations upon generations.
To put this story in context, we need to read the Canaanite woman not as the victim of racism, but rather as a person of privilege, because that is what she is.
In the Roman Empire, certain provinces were more privileged than others, based on how much money they brought in. The province of Syria had the great port cities of Tyre and Sidon; it was central to trade with the east, with the Persians and a major part of the silk road. The Syrophoneacians, then were rich. Palestine—Judea, Galilee, and Samaria—was poor, it’s people more oppressed both politically and religiously.
The Syrophonecians would buy up land in Palestine to use for raising livestock, mainly sheep, but also pigs, which would be offensive to the Jewish people, preventing the people of the region from owning their own land. Moreover, the military policy of the Roman Empire was to raise units from one area, and then ship them to another area to maintain order. Soldiers were sent to oppress another people, rather than remaining with their own. The bulk of the soldiers who were sent to Palestine were from Syria. The soldiers who accompanied future emperor Vespasian as he sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple were from Syria.
So, in the story, we see this woman—the text calls here Canaanite, which is a name for a people who hadn’t existed for centuries at that point, but a traditional foe of the Hebrew peoples—approach Jesus, and ask for healing. It isn’t as if there weren’t other healers around, of every religion. This woman did not come to Jesus because he was the only game in town.
So how I read this woman is not as the victim here, but rather she is somewhat cluelessly,
How we hear Jesus’ anger, his words, and his insult, is how we hear the anger of the oppressed. If we shrink from it, if we avoid it, if we try to say that it is better to be nice, then how do we respond to the justified anger of Black people, Indigenous peoples, and more at the systematic oppression that we have benefited from?
Jesus says, “I have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” He uses the sheep metaphor elsewhere, when he tells the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd is absolutely willing to ignore the 99 sheep who do not need saving in favour of the one who does.
The God who looked at a people in slavery and said, “You are my chosen people,” does not say, “All lives matter.” He says, “Black lives matter.” When it comes to Canada and our own history of violence and genocide, she says “Indigenous lives matter.” God is not neutral, absolutely does pick a side, and that side is always the side of the oppressed.