Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28
It is too easy to take Jesus' teaching to his disciples, about what goes in and what comes out of the mouth and the consequential disqualifications for worship, as a rejection of the Law. Rather, we can look at this as a preferred interpretation of the Law. . . Jesus' words are a corrective making the Law's fulfillment once again a matter of faithful relationship—covenant relationship—with God. The covenant reality is the faithful relationship that the Law describes, and of which Jesus himself is the salvific embodiment.
The Canaanite woman. . . comes to Jesus knowing who he is and seeking his deliverance for her daughter, crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” How odd to find the messianic address coming out of the mouth of this Canaanite woman. Then too, her daughter is possessed by a demon, putting matters directly within the realm of Jesus' calling and expertise, the contest and deliverance of evil. . . .
The woman keeps coming back after Jesus' rebuffs and is adroit in her response. . . . Her appeal is to him alone with a faith that recognizes him as master and knows the breadth and depth of his authority and purpose. The substance of her faith is remarkable. . . . This gentile woman knows who Jesus is and her faith, in accordance with who Jesus is, is fully recognized by him. She. . . brings a troubling acuity in contrast to the response of the lost sheep of Israel.
The powerful point is here established: the Messiah is in the world and there are those who can receive him with the reality and hope of salvation. The reconciling communication is bringing a measure of success to the divine-human relationship. It is this hopeful reality that puts Israel's relationship to it in new perspective. Because of the Canaanite woman, we know that nothing hangs on Israel's response. What matters is the presence of Christ and the grace that is present for those who see and hear and respond, and gloriously some do. –– John E. Smith
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Part of this message. . . means the reinterpretation of Israel's role as a chosen and servant people: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” There is a widening of Israel's self-understanding and an inclusion of the foreigner. . . if only they will hold fast to the covenant.
Certainly, it is the salvation of Israel that is imminent, but wrapped up in this salvation is God's larger purpose in calling Israel in the first place: All nations are to know God, serve him, and worship him. In this common restoration to worship of God lies peace between enemies and nations. –– John E. Smith
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Truly, there is now no distinction between Jew and gentile in either need or access to grace. All need mercy and together are offered mercy in the grace established for them. Furthering the argument, the mercy shown to the gentiles and received by them becomes the proof-in-the-pudding witness of God's mercy being made available to the Jews as well: “So they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy.” –– John E. Smith
John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.
Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 155-166.