In our Gospel passage today we hear about two people who do not display the kind of dead faith James warns against.
Their faith leads them to action.
Of course, the context of these two vignettes is Jesus’ teaching we were thinking about last week – it is not what goes into the mouth that makes us unclean, it’s what comes out of it.
This is because what we say says a great deal about what we think, what we have in our hearts.
I am sometimes alarmed when I see some people’s reactions to things that happen on the road. The smallest misdemeanour, someone pulling out when someone else didn’t think they should, can cause disproportionate amounts of rage.
I find this shocking, not because of the words that you can hear in those moments! But because I wonder, what is the level of anger that person is living with, if something so small can cause such a reaction?
This is what Jesus has been talking about – what comes out of a persons mouth tells you a great deal about what is happening in that persons heart.
Given all that, what is going on here?
This woman, whose child is suffering terribly, comes to Jesus to ask for help. What comes out of her heart is desperation, anxiety, sadness and, above all, faith.
And what does Jesus do? He fobs her off!
Jesus talks about what goes into the mouth – the children’s food. He then uses the commonly understood way of referring to a Canaanite and refers to her as a dog. What is Jesus doing here?
I wonder if you, with me, find all this deeply uncomfortable.
Maybe it is that Jesus was showing he knew his mission;
he knew what he was to fulfil. He knew that Israel were the chosen people. God had not made a mistake.
Israel were the promise bearing people, and Jesus had to remind them what the promise was so that they could fulfil it. Jesus was utterly present in the moment,
focussed on what was to be done.
However, none of that stops me wanting to change what comes out of Jesus’ mouth in this encounter.
But, we know the end of the story. For the first readers,
they would have responded with ‘of course!’
But, the woman, somehow, is miles ahead.
She wants to fast forward to the end of the story.
She is focussed on Easter.
Here, about as far as can be away from Easter as we can be, and this woman reminds us of this central focus of our faith; that Jesus came that all might be welcomed as Children of God.
We can hear her persistence, ‘Help me! Call me a dog, call me what you like, but I am not leaving, and I know you can help me. I know only you can help me! I will be happy with the crumbs.’
Indeed, what she says is both what will be – with Easter,
the blessing will be for all – and what should always have been – the children [Israel] were always supposed to allow crumbs to fall, they were always supposed to be a blessing to those around them.
Jesus sees her faith, coming from her heart, out of her mouth, and he allows Easter to break in; her daughter is healed, instantly.
No such reluctance seems to hinder Jesus when confronted with the deaf man who struggled with his speech.
Jesus goes through this strange ritual, using something from out of his mouth we may find less edifying, and the man moves from his silent world to speech.
In this action is a profound reference to the silence of the dead faith the people of God had inhabited being bought back to life through the healing of Jesus. The silence and stagnation of God’s people being bought back to life in abundance, life to be shared.
And what about us?
How are we doing at making a difference by turning our faith into action?
We are the people of God, living in the light of Easter day. What is there in our lives that we have faith that God can do? And do we have the faith to keep asking, expecting God to break in and do something amazing, immediately?
Do we have the courage to move our faith from safe stagnation to action, so that we might see a difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us?
We are going to take some time now to think about that. There are pencils and paper in the pews, and I would invite you to draw or write down some things that you would love God to do. It might be about something in your family that feels like it will never change. It might be a situation at work that is getting you down. It might be something that you would love to do, but you just don’t think you will ever be brave or good enough. What seems like something that will take ages to come about, but you would love Jesus to break in and help it to happen now? Try and stretch your faith here.
You can choose to put these in the baskets that come around, where they will physically become part of our prayers, or you can choose to keep the card in your wallet or on your fridge to remind you to keep praying. Whichever is more helpful to you.
I pray that we find some of the persistent faith of the woman in our story, that we would move from silence to speech, and that nothing would put us off asking Jesus for our hearts desire.