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Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: 21-28

Get Mahoney!

After experiencing Jesus’ interaction with the “Canaanite Woman,” I can only imagine someone in the crowd shouting “Get Mahoney!”

Jim Mahoney was a fixer. A Hollywood Public Relations Specialist who managed highbrow clients like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Peggy Lee, and many others. I read his book this summer. If there was a celebrity misbehaving, a crisis, or a reputation to be saved, Mahoney was your man.

Seemingly there’s a lot to fix in this Gospel story.

We have a demanding woman shouting out to Jesus, Jesus first ignoring her, then calling her a dog, annoyed disciples, and a child, possessed by a demon.

Jesus appears to be doing real damage to his reputation.

Surely crisis management needs to fix this encounter that goes terribly awry.

We need a fixer – “Get Mahoney.”

This is actually one of my favorite Gospel stories. And well for us to consider. No, not because I’m advocating misogynistic behavior. But for reasons I’ll tell you about as this sermon progresses.

Many preachers try to be “Mahoney,” they work to fix Jesus’s poor behavior. Oh, he’s “hangry” or irritable from being tired. He’s just a product of his time, a man acting badly toward woman because that’s what men do.

It’s my view that Jesus doesn’t need Mahoney’s help to repair his reputation or my attempt to mansplain his behavior away. Jesus needs to be “egged on,” not critiqued.

Understandably, Jesus grew up and was living in a patriarchal time. Patriarchy was the social umbrella under which the various stories, poems, parables, priestly edicts, and prevailing attitudes evolved.

Like us, Jesus is a product of his time. Culture, customs, and way of life are all a part of his “mode of operandi,” governing his thought, attitude, and behavior. Jesus isn’t immune to culture any more than we are; he is steeped in it.

The world that Jesus lived in largely discriminated against women.

Women were excluded from participation in synagogue worship, relegated to the role of spectator, forbidden to enter the Temple beyond the Court of the Women. They could not touch the Scriptures, less the scriptures be defiled.
A man was not supposed to talk much with a woman, even his wife. Talk with women in public was even more restricted.

Women could not engage in commerce; rarely would they be seen outside the home. If on the streets, they were heavily veiled.

It was the way of the man “to go into the marketplace.”

One Talmudic passage perhaps best sums up the situation of women in the first century: “They are swathed like a mourner (referring to face and hair coverings), isolated from people and shut up in prison.”

It’s in this context that Jesus travels without explanation to Tyre and Sidon, the equivalent of, well let’s say it’s not “Barbie land”. He leads the disciples outside of their comfort zone, a place they view as a spiritual slum, a ghetto of unbelief. They had to be feeling very uneasy, concerned for their safety.

Suddenly a crazy Canaanite woman runs up, screaming at the top of her lungs about her demon possessed daughter. Shrill, overly direct, presumptuous, she caught them all off guard.

In the immediacy of the confrontation, Jesus doesn’t seem to come through for her.

His language and behavior are jarring.

First there’s awkward silence. Then a claim, she isn’t within the scope of his ministry. And worse, like all Jews regarded Canaanites, he compares her a dog.

Was Jesus caught with his own compassion down?

Is he confronting his own and society’s harsh prejudice?

It’s important to keep in mind that Matthew is writing to the Church of his day, increasingly a blend of Jews and Gentiles, those raised in Jesus’ tradition and those excluded from it based on that tradition.

It appears to me that Jesus and the Gospel writer are showing how their patriarchal culture and tradition contravenes the will of God.

Let’s look at Jesus’ track record with women.

Jesus had women in his band of disciples, relying on some to finance the ministry.

He shaped his teachings to communicate his message as powerfully to women as to men.

Gospel writers selected and presented stories where Jesus elevates women to a place of equality with men.

This story is one of them.

The wrongdoing is not covered up, explained away by a “fixer” with false stories or phony justifications.

The story is told.

Jesus’s message has always been clear.

Evil cannot be redeemed unless it is exposed.

The woman clearly knows Jesus’s reputation. She’s undeterred. She understands the compassion and mercy of God and forcefully claims it.

In her persistence, she provides Jesus with the opportunity to teach us a more expansive understanding of hospitality and faithfulness.

When we consider this teaching, it leads us to examine our own society’s track record.

Do we let our prevailing ways fester injustices that are far from God’s desire for compassion, justice, and mercy?

Intimate partner violence – 1 in 4 women experience intimidation, threats, verbal abuse, and physical violence.

Pay inequalities persist. The pay gap for women ranges from 8-27% depending upon age, industry, and race.

Women are underrepresented in leadership in elected office, law firm partnerships and as CEO’s.

Women of color are a particularly vulnerable population, disproportionately affected by mental health issues, and other adverse health issues that impact the quality of life.

LGBTQ+ women face discrimination because of sexual and gender identity impacting their physical and mental health, access to jobs, housing, healthcare and more.

And there is a deterioration of access to sexual and reproductive health care across the United States.

Clearly, we need to cry out, like the Canaanite woman.

“Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David, our daughters are tormented by a demon.”

A large part of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to calling out moral wrongs, social injustice, antiquated notions of God and community.

Will we join his movement? Or react with silence, claim this is outside our ministry, or worse, call our daughters offensive names?

When I read Jim Mahoney’s book celebrating his successes, I paused. The inappropriate behavior was explained away, hidden, or overshadowed by falsely created distracting events, all to protect his wealthy and powerful clients – a big win for him and them.

Mahoney seems to miss the point.

When someone comes in to fix a problem to protect another, it is usually at the harm of others and our greater society.

When we tolerate contemptable behavior, we create victims, let the powerful off the hook, diminish society.

Truth be told. After reflecting on this Gospel, I’m not going to shout, “Get Mahoney” in the face of injustice. The last thing we need is a fixer to cover things up, to protect the powerful, preserve the prevailing ways.

Like the Canaanite woman, we need to be more expansive in our understanding of faithfulness and hospitality.

We need to boldly claim God’s compassion and mercy in our world as fervently as she did in her own.

When there’s injustice, are we going to shout, “Get Mahoney?”

Or be willing to boldly call it out? Just like Jesus.

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