Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer… for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
– The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere God.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all.
Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28 – What defiles a person and the faith of the Canaanite woman.
The theme that ties all three texts together this week is the welcoming of outsiders. This is an important topic in the world today, and for the church. The most read post on my blog in the last ten years was an article entitled Insiders and Outsiders.
In Isaiah 56, Yahweh says that even the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will be welcome on the holy mountain. Romans 9-11, and to some extent all of Romans and much of Paul’s other letters, deal with the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, begging the question of who is “in” and who is “out.” And who decides… Finally, in Matthew it is a Canaanite woman who shows faith. Faith is the key, not ancestry, ethnicity or even religious affiliation.
Isaiah 56 begins Trito-Isaiah and the assumed context is that some remnant has returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. It makes perfect sense that the question of “insiders” and “outsiders” is a post-exilic question or concern. There had been some “benefits” to the exile and, while not being “home”, the Jews were well-treated and some became quite wealthy. Being with foreigners had not been a complete disaster. Nevertheless, many interpreted the exile as punishment for their infidelity to Yahweh, an infidelity that was linked to foreigners and foreign deities.
So Trito-Isaiah begins with affirming and accepting references to foreigners. “Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from the people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’” As we heard in last week’s lesson from Romans, “All that call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So it is from the beginning to the end of the Scriptures. Bottom line, “us-ness” ought to be defined by Yahweh and one’s relationship to Yahweh, not by one’s ethnicity or nationality.
One should also note that this is the portion of scripture that Jesus quotes while cleaning the temple in Matthew 21: “My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Mark’s gospel completes the line from Isaiah: “…a house of prayer for all people.” The temple, which was supposed to be a welcome place of prayer for all people, has become a place of exclusion to foreigners, eunuchs, handicapped, and others. People are being ripped off, an especially egregious lack of hospitality to foreigners that had traveled long distances.
As with last week’s reading, this too is from the unity of Christians and Jews section of Romans; Chapters 9-11. And, here again, Paul underscores – in much the same way he did pointing to the unity shared by Jews and Gentiles in the 3rd Chapter – the fact that in Jesus Christ, God’s mercy includes all: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all.” All means all, y’all. This could be a worthy sermon title. All of the world’s categories for who are insiders and outsiders – which usually involve categories of “righteousness” or “rightness” – count for nothing!
And yet, when people start yammering on about “America getting back to being a Christian nation” once again (assuming for a moment that it ever was), they are usually talking about categories of righteousness/rightness. They are usually talking about who ought be in and who ought be out. They may even be talking about foreigners and foreign religions. They are seldom talking about a God that is merciful to all.
One may recall Portia’s soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy
One may also recall a line from the hymn “Lead On, O King Eternal:“
For not with swords loud clashing,
nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy
the heavenly kingdom comes.
Artistic renderings of Biblical stories can be curious; and one of the more bemusing is by Sebastiano Ricci, where the woman has one breast seductively exposed and is holding her little dog in her arms. It may say more about Ricci than about the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman. However, we must recognize how very different are the people who come to Christ across the world. They bring their cultural, familial, and religious sensibilities with them.
It is important to read the optional verses, 10-28, and not just verses 21-28. Verses 10-20 set up the story. The encounter with the Canaanite woman “acts out” exactly what is “spelled out” in Jesus’ interaction with the Scribes and Pharisees.
Righteousness or cleanliness is not about “outside-in”; it’s about “inside-out;” and that’s what gets recognized and approved in Jesus granting her request. Her status as a Gentile counts for nothing. What’s critical is her faith. It’s all inside-out.
Jesus now moves to the area of Tyre and Sidon at this point in Matthew’s narrative. He is way up in Lebanon. Ezekiel predicts the destruction of Tyre and Sidon in chapters 26 and 28, respectively.
Tyre (Romanized as “Sour”) was originally an island. Alexander the Great built a causeway to the mainland, that eventually built up with more and more deposits. The 1873 map below shows this. It shows after in 322 BC and then in 1873 AD. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/01/26/The-Biblical-Cities-Of-Tyre-And-Sidon.aspx
Tyre has been used as a quarry, a living t stamens to the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The former great harbors can been seen on the north and south sides of the peninsula. It is, today, Lebanon’s fourth largest city, with a population of 60,000, 174,000 metro. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyre,_Lebanon
Sidon, or Saïda, to the North of Tyre, is also a port city. This ancient Phoenician city is older than Tyre. Some estimate it was inhabited as early as 4,000 BC. In Genesis, Sidon is Noah’s grandson. The word means “fishery” in Arabic (صيدا).
The sarcophagus of King Eshmun’azar II was discovered in 1855. It had a Phoenician inscription on its lid: “king of the Sidonians,” about 5th century BC, and that his mother was a priestess of ‘Ashtart, “the goddess of the Sidonians.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidon
If the fort looks a bit like a castle, that’s because it is. It was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century. It is connected by a narrow road, a tad smaller than a football field. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidon_Sea_Castle
That Jesus and his disciples are in this place is amazing. This humble carpenter turned healer/preacher has moved out of his comfort zone. This is a witness to the emerging missionary outreach of Jesus and his followers.
The word “fair” in verse 27, “it is not fair to take the children’s food,” is not the best translation. The King James Version got closest when it translated kalon as “meet.” “For it is not meet to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Today we would say, “It is not appropriate…” But then, what does it mean?
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gains. Made into a movie in 1974 starring Cicely Tyson, it is the story of an African-American woman, born into slavery, who lives to be about 100. In the closing scene, and with everyone watching (including the local sheriff), she does the one thing she has to do before she dies: slow and stooped with age, she makes her way up the sidewalk to the courthouse and drinks from the fountain marked “White.” Whether what she did was “meet” or not would depend upon whom you asked.
Driving Miss Daisy is a 1989 film starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Based on the play of the same name, the story is of an aging, white woman who cannot drive and so she has a black man – a long time “friend” of the family – as her chauffer. The movie is a study of how in some ways they got very close over the years; and yet, in some ways they always had to keep their emotional distance. It simply would not have been “meet.”
Pastor Don Carlson, who did a lot of the research and prep for these notes, recalls being a Bible camp counselor. After camp was over one summer, a few of the Minnesota counselors went south for a week to stay with fellow counselors and get a taste of Texas. One day at the home of Colonel George and his wife in San Angelo, Jennifer had to pull her Minnesota friends aside and tell them that, if they wanted to make a good impression, they had better start using “Ma’am” or “Sir” when they addressed an adult. Their speech wasn’t “meet.”
So, you have the sense. “Meet” as an adjective means: proper or acceptable. Or to use a good Southernism: “fittin’,” as in: “It ain’t kalos!” – “It ain’t fittin’.”
But note that what is “meet” or not is often a social construct. It depends upon whom you ask. Is it “kalon” to drink from the fountain? Is it “meet” to befriend Miss Daisy Is it “fittin’” to not use Ma’am or Sir? Social patterns differ from time-to-time, place-to-place, person-to-person, and people-to-people.
In this story, Jesus is way out of bounds. He’s not coloring “inside the lines” in Galilee. He’s way up around Tyre in Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon. And he’s talking to a woman – a woman who is Canaanite. Jesus is bending social convention.
Of course, the Pharisees had said to Jesus, “Your disciples don’t follow the traditions of the elders, for they eat with defiled (ritually unwashed) hands. It ain’t fittin’! That ain’t right!” In response to them, Jesus had said that it wasn’t what went into people that made them unclean; but what came out of them from their heart.
Of course, the issue never was unclean hands or food. The issue was unclean people! Not following the rules, the social/religious constructs, those things, they had agreed, made people unclean! Unacceptable! Unfit! Foul!
It ain’t fittin’ to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs is it?
Jesus, you got that right. In fact, you shouldn’t even be there. You shouldn’t be there talking to her! And, for God’s sake, you shouldn’t be doing anything for her! It wouldn’t be kalon; meet!
Yes, Jesus, but even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs! Even the dogs know when something’s fit to eat, even if the children are unwilling to eat it!
For speaking this truth it shall be as you have said!”
If you say to the one who is poor, ‘Stand there,’ or to the person in dirty clothes, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves?
Well, duh! Of course we’ve made distinctions! That’s how the game is played! Life is about distinctions; otherwise, how would we know where the lines are? How will we know who’s distinguished if we don’t make distinctions? It is meet, right, and salutary!
But, as usual, it depends upon whom you ask.
Do you, with your acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
We live in a culture, nation, and world where the lines are being ever more clearly drawn – polarization. It doesn’t matter if it’s nations, religions, gender identities, political parties, races, orientations, nationalities, classes, or whatever. Someone is always saying to or about someone else, “It ain’t right to take the bread and throw it to the likes of them.” Some people even say the words in Jesus’ name.
But those words weren’t Jesus’ last word. “For this, go – what you ask is yours.” He broke the rules. But then, maybe not. After all, Lords can do that. Rulers make new rules. “Do we, with our acts of favoritism, really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”
Do we believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? Maybe the answer depends upon whom we ask, and how we treat those around us.
We have a God who does not make distinctions. Human divisions are irrelevant. All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.