He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”
Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?” Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”
Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.” Jesus replied, “You too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands–that’s neither here nor there.”
From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.”
Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.” Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.” Then the woman came back to Jesus, went to her knees, and begged. “Master, help me.” He said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” She was quick: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.”
Jesus gave in. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well.
This gospel reading has me thinking about seeing things from the perspective of a dog, in particular what parts of a dinner table a dog can see. It’s probable that the dog can only see the bottom of the table, or it’s edges, dog’s aren’t allowed on the dinner table, but their keen sense of smell would tell them that there’s food on top… somewhere… out of sight. They’ll sit there, hoping and waiting for something to fall, for something to hit the ground, their space, they have faith that something will come their way.
A dog would see the people gathered, at the dinner table the dog becomes ignored, put to the side, silenced. A dog would be attracted tot he noise, the company, the smells of people, other dogs, food newly cooked would fill the room exciting the dog, the dog would start to wait, to beg, the tail would wag in anticipation…
I’m tempted to raise the communion table above the heads of the community so they could only see the bottom of the table. From below the bread, the wine, the body and the blood, the grace and hope cannot be seen, but they can be smelt, the people gathered tells us that there’s something there, and we’d start to get excited, we’d start to wag our tails. Surely some bread, some blood, some grace would fall to us, all we’d need to do is wait.
*in the end I invited the congregation to crawl around on all fours and imagine seeing everything from the perspective of a dog, I gave them crayons and paper to draw their new perspective.
Humans are such wastefull creatures, they don’t know what they have, they eat too quickly, creating crumbs that would fall to the floor, they don;t understand the great feast they have and they throw out leftovers, like it’ll always be there, like they have too much, like they don’t understand the position that they’re in. Surely there’d be leftovers for us, and that’s all we really need, we’d be happy with leftovers.
And that’s all that the Canaanite woman asks for, the crumbs, the Israelites don’t know what they’ve got, they are happy feasting, but they still aren’t aware, the Canaanite though, she wants the crumbs, that’s enough.
And then there’s the interaction that the woman has with Jesus, she challenges his refusal, and in turn challenges his calling her a dog. In this interaction Jesus finds someone who teaches him, who challenges him and his ministry, Is he here just for the israelites, or is his mission wider than that?
Jesus had just spent time telling people that what they “vommit up” comes from the heart and defiles the person then he goes ahead and does this… Is this Jesus using reverse psychology? Why did he insult the woman? Was it cultural? Was it a racist slur? Was he unaware of what he was saying?
Even if it is the Canaanite woman still challenges the oppression, the insult that Jesus just threw at her, she still has the guts to say “I can smell the bread and wine, the healing and the grace and I want the crumbs.”
So, as a church, as a community and as individuals who are our Canaanite Women who are challenging us? And are we able to accept the challenge, are we able to learn from them? AND then there’s the flipside… Who have we called dogs? Who are we calling dogs?
Here’s a reflection by Rev Duncan Macleod on the same reading…
What Really Makes People Unclean
Jesus called the crowd together and said, “Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.”
Peter replied, “What did you mean when you talked about the things that make people unclean?” Jesus then said: Don’t any of you know what I am talking about by now? Don’t you know that the food you put into your mouth goes into your stomach and then out of your body? But the words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. And they are what make you unfit to worship God. Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others. These are what make you unclean. Eating without washing your hands will not make you unfit to worship God. – Matthew 15: 10-20 (CEV)
Have you ever had someone tell you to wash your mouth out with soap? Or have you told someone else to do it? Or have you been told to clean up your act? Here Jesus tells his followers to clean up their attitudes, the values that shape their words and actions. He helps them acknowledge that each of them has a messy thought life. As pure as they might appear on the outside, they struggle with mixed motives when they relate to other people.
So if Jesus wants us to address our inner motivation, where do we start?
In recovery circles, addicts on the mend are helped to recognise ‘stinking thinking’ – negative or twisted thought patterns that lead to further abuse. It’s not just about what we feel tempted to do to others. Stinky thinking can include being dishonest with ourselves, telling ourselves that we cannot achieve anything, writing ourselves off. Recovery can only happen when we recognise stinky thinking for what it is. And that usually means being honest enough with a friend to allow honest feedback in turn.
And then there’s the development of clean values for living in a messy world. Instead of merely conforming to the environment we’re in, we’re called to identify the principles and thought patterns that lead to life-giving behaviour. As parents, as children, as teachers and leaders, we’re all given the challenge of seeing the world with the character of God, seeing people with attitudes that are loving, content, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.
Jesus on a learning curve
Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, “Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons.” Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep.” The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, “Please help me, Lord!” Jesus replied, “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.” “Lord, that’s true,” the woman said, “but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.” Jesus answered, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want.” At that moment her daughter was healed. – Matthew 15: 21-28 (CEV)
This could be a disturbing story.
On the one hand is the thought that Jesus could be so rude. From the perspective of the worldview I’m in, Jesus comes across here as parochial, xenophobic almost. But so does the dominant culture in which Jesus lived. There was a sense of God’s favour resting on the chosen people only. Other people are seen as dogs, unclean outsiders.
Some might say that Jesus here is just testing the woman, to see if she has enough faith to break through the cultural barriers that would prevent her from experiencing God’s grace.
On the other hand is the possibility that Jesus is on a learning curve. He’s been confronted by someone who takes him at his word and now challenges him to be consistent. After all Jesus has been talking about purity coming from inner attitudes rather than outward cultural habits.
What I see here is the dynamic exploration of his mission. It reminds me of the emergence of calling portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus starts off with the angry prophetic approach shared with John the Baptist. He moves on to the development of the importance of loving relationships. Finally he discovers the call to walk towards the cross.
Dynamic discovery of mission challenges the expectation that Jesus was inerrant and infallible. If we run with Jesus being without sin we have to think carefully about what we mean by that. Jesus would have learnt from experience like anybody else. As a child he would have stumbled as he learnt to walk. As a carpenter he would have gradually improved in competence. As a preacher he would have developed his skills of communication, learning from responses in the crowd.
Of course the good news here is that Jesus is prepared to work cross culturally. He’s open to dialogue. He’s able to honour faith from anyone, no matter what ethnic background they come from. He’s prepared to break out of the classic expectations around what he will do and with whom he will relate.
Jesus calls us to clean up our act