“Gobsmacked” – adjective – utterly astonished, astounded.
I was “gobsmacked” as he replied to my question or maybe it’s more apt to say – GOD SMACKED.
The patient was unable to speak, his bedside aide assured me that he could hear and understand me.He would reply – a wink for yes, two for no or type a response on his communication board.
After introducing myself as a Chaplain, explaining I was visiting to support his spiritual care, I leaned in and asked a basic question about something I didn’t know. Was he a person of faith?
The communication board began to spell out his answer.
I am a Hindu.
Then, I was “Godsmacked.” Jesus, he typed, is my Savior.
An answer to my question delivered in a way I wasn’t expecting. In our tradition, we might have answered differently with a variety of possibilities. Yes, I’m a Christian. I am an Episcopalian, a person of faith.
How many of us would lead with Jesus is my Savior?
This gentle unassuming man welcomed prayer with one blink of his eye and as the prayer concluded, his communication board came alive with one word – AMEN.
The encounter in today’s Gospel “Godsmacked” me in a similar way as this hospital encounter. So did a later meeting on the street. Jesus as my Savior as he traveled that day in Tyre and Sidon.
I’m not so sure the Canaanite woman was ready to do that either, but she seemed to have more faith as she met Jesus that day.
He seems a bit rude, doesn’t he? He seems to disinherit this woman from God’s mercy until she persists. Surely this isn’t the Jesus of our earlier encounters, the Jesus who extends hospitality to sinners, heals those who are suffering and embraces those who others marginalize. His attitude and language towards the Canaanite woman is not the Jesus we have come to know.
Jesus first responds with stony silence, he calls her a dog, a name routinely given by the Jews to non – Jews – the Gentile pagans. His mission is to the lost of Israel, say what? We can appreciate his encounter with the “keepers of tradition,” the Pharisees. Actions are more important than following rules.
“I desire mercy more than sacrifice.”
The Jesus who has mercy as the cornerstone of his ministry uses it as a litmus test to the Pharisee’s interpretation of Religion and life style. Clearly, the Pharisees had it wrong, actions, kindness, God’s mercy are more important than rules, traditions that bind and become obstacles to God’s love.
There! That’s the Jesus we have come to know and love. Then why is Jesus behaving this way?
It’s important to acknowledge that Matthew is writing to a community that is an interesting blend of Jews and Gentiles. Jews raised on a strict oral and written tradition and those excluded from the same tradition, all now part of the Jesus movement.
Perhaps Matthew thought this community needed to be “Gobsmacked” by Jesus’ behavior, so that they would really pay attention. Perhaps Jesus was confronting his own racism, his own prejudices, as he stood in this foreign land pestered by a woman who lived outside of his tradition and beliefs. He seems to let Jewish ill–regard for the Canaanites to drive his reaction to the woman’s request. Perhaps the environment he was raised in caused this knee jerk reaction.
Many of us can relate to attitudes about certain “others” that have been ingrained in us.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Canaanite woman needed to “GODsmack” him.
After all Jesus human just like us, tired from all the misery around him, might have needed to be given a glimpse of God’s reign through a stranger’s eyes…needed to see a situation through the eyes of someone “other”.
Sometimes we all use belief, tradition, culture, differences of heritage and explicit racism to contravene the will of God. This Gospel certainly opens up questions about prejudice, the boundaries of tradition and culture, the extension of God’s mercy. This humble Canaanite woman pushes back; she will not be silent in the wake of racism. She pleads for her daughter, she trusts Christ’s mercy; she seems to know Christ’s reputation as a healer. She persists and reverently bends down on her knees.
“Lord have mercy,” becomes the cry of her soul.
She comes to Jesus with clear unshakeable conviction – God’s mercy is available to ALL, even to her and to her daughter. Shouting at Jesus, she refuses to be complicit through her silence.
She makes trouble, “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
She shifts from confrontation to bending on her knees to break through barriers. She breaks down the wall that Jesus seems to be erecting. She prompts him to return to what he has known all along, – God’s hospitality is meant for all – no exceptions. Hospitality extended in the form of God’s expansive justice, mercy and acceptance. Hospitality that confronts the prevailing culture, beliefs and tradition that seems to give us permission to act far from the heart of God.
How do we as Church live out this hospitality?
Jesus intentionally travelled into “unwashed” territory knowing he would encounter those who were marginalized by others.
What would it mean for us to follow Jesus into these forbidden areas?
Jesus clearly uses his words and actions to shock us into a new reality – to Godsmack us! He stimulates our imagination to see and hear the evils of racist behavior, to understand that words, actions and silence matter. He confronts the impenetrable wall of prejudice, so we might know it has no place where God’s love reigns.
Yet it comes with a cost. It means never tiring to build God’s reign. To get on our knees and let, “Lord have mercy” become the cry of our souls – a cry for our;
Indifference to the lives lost on our streets;
To poverty and the inequity of opportunity;
To our neglect of our children, turning a blind eye to the incarceration of children at our borders and gun violence in our schools;
To racism, sexism, heterosexism, religious prejudice, able-ism, classism, xenophobia;
To our own complicit silence – “Lord have mercy.”
As I was preparing to write this sermon, I met a man who managed to put it all into four powerful words. His name was Tobias. He passed me on the street then came back to the outside table I was planning to have breakfast at to tell me his story. The message on my T- shirt caught his attention.
He is 95 and a Holocaust survivor. As a child in Poland he was called a “Christ Killer.” Tobias never understood why. Christ had to die, didn’t He, Tobias said, to forgive sin, explaining the theology, as he understands it? Why were people so filled with hate 2000 years later?
A local Catholic family agreed to hide Tobias and his family from the Nazi’s alongside the pigs in their hog pen. He remembers the Catholic parents sitting their young son in front of the family Crucifix explaining the dire consequences if he shared the family secret.
It was here that Tobias as a young boy, the recipient of this family’s belief in God’s hospitality learned about hate and God’s love. Tobias survived, and moved here at age 13. His young Catholic companion died playing with discarded munitions. Where was God, Tobias wonders?
Sometimes there are no answers, I replied. God was weeping for all that happened to him and the boy.
He extended his hand. I apologized for not being able to shake it, I held my hand to my heart and told him I would tell his sacred story. We were after all standing on sacred ground. God smacked once again. I could have begun and ended the sermon here.
Jesus, the Canaanite woman, and Tobias all saw the Kingdom of God revealed in their stories. They knew first hand what my T-shirt proclaimed – “Hate is not Holy.”
Let’s get on our knees this day and everyday, let our cry be – “Lord have mercy” and say with confidence that Jesus is our Savior, who will make things right.
“Hate is not Holy.”