Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Truthful Humility – 17 August 2014 – Lectionary 20

Primary connections in these texts link honesty (with oneself and others) with humility. The Canaanite woman who confronts Jesus for healing is both truthful and humble. These attributes are also present in Isaiah’s call to justice. And in Romans, we find Paul’s astounding statements about human disobedience and God’s mercy. The honest truth is that God’s healing continues despite our failure to deserve it. And the Canaanite woman knows that. She can teach us. In truth, we cannot honestly receive God's goodness without a sense of humility. 

Matthew 15:1028

The exploration of God’s relationship with what is not good in our world (perhaps we do not want to call everything that is negative “evil”) is given specific focus in the Gospel text. Rather than leaving out the alternate additional sentences, verses 10-20, invite them into the discussion. Let them raise the questions of evil, defilement, and God’s relationship with all that we detest in our world. Jesus addresses these issues and we should hear what he says.

Jesus speaks first with the disciples in a theoretical way about the location of what does not produce good. Let the blind lead the blind, Jesus says. They are going to “fall down,” and you cant change that. 
 The disciples ask for greater clarity. Jesus again speaks in abstract terms: What a person produces from the heart is capable of defeating him or her. What the body itself (the stomach) produces is irrelevant to the production of goodness. The seat of evil is in the heart. 
 Then the abstraction takes hold in a concrete person. A woman appears who wants help for her daughter. Jesusdisciples want her to get lost. Even Jesus isnt clear that she is part of his concern. Shes not an Israelite. 
 She is remarkable for having argued with Jesus, and fought her way into his blessing, but her real triumph is her humility. She doesnt try to argue that she is not a dog. Instead, she embraces Jesusdefinition of her (anything to get his help! Her daughter is the point!). He is the master. She is the lapping dog. She will crawl for any crumb he might toss to her. She is granted her desire because Jesus sees that her eyes are on the power he has to dispense and on its goodness. She is not demeaned by his portrait of her. Instead, she dismantles that identity by absorbing it and twisting it to her own purposes. Thus is evil overcome. 
 This may be a story of pacifism: winning through accommodation rather than battle.

Isaiah 56:1, 68
Those of us who are given to thinking of scripture in terms of Law and Gospel find here an excellent example of the complexity of assigning such designations. What could be Law: Maintain justice… do what is right… keep the Sabbath… do not profane it… hold fast my covenant…” What could be Gospel: “soon my salvation will come… my deliverance be revealed… these I will bring to my holy mountain… make them joyful… I will gather others besides those…” 
 The grace of God permeates the actions that sometimes sound as if they are prerequisites for Gods grace. Where one ends and the other begins is usually obscure.  . . .  Grace is enacted in truth-telling.

Romans 11:12a, 2932

This chapter of Romans concerns God’s design of creation. Verses 2b-28, the missing verses here, deal with God’s historical embrace and the people’s denial of allegiance to God which ask what happens to those who have been given a share in God’s realm and yet turn away from it.

The reigning question is what becomes of those who have been grafted onto the olive treea metaphor for Gods life-giving presence in the lives of the belovedand yet break off. The answer is verse 32: For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” . . .   
 Yet, we need to investigate what it is to be imprisoned in disobedience.Is this Luthers “bondage of the will?” Is it Pauls statement that he cannot do the good he wills to do? Is it a twisted description of a God who lets destruction thrive in the creation? Does it tell us that God created evil, too? There is much here for the preacher to explore.
– Melinda Quivik, General Editor of Liturgy, independent liturgical scholar

Homily Service 38, no. 9 (14 Aug 2005): 15-24.

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