Have you ever got the wrong end of the stick?
I don't mean misbehaviour but hearing an instruction or relayed teaching and proceeding to work with it but not perhaps as it was first intended.
I am certainly guilty of this. Classically a few years back I was away at a management team building function and we had an orienteering exercise with various items to identify. Well my team, as they all palmed the task onto me, was going swimmingly. My mapreading that I excelled in when I was in the cadets came into great use. We completed in record time and enjoyed a good time on a bench overlooking Lake Windermere awaiting the delayed return of the other three teams, all of whom admitted they could not solve all the clues. We had the judging and I revealed our results and there was silence possibly admiration until the bubble was burst.
What about the rest of the task? Consternation on many faces. More tasks? Was this a reason for an early finish. Was it anything to do with the further instructions on the other side of the laminated card? Why had no one told me to turn the card over? It was just my interpretation of that laid down. Sad to say, we came last but one. Not last as we knew how to do things well, we, I, had missed the point. We were right, mainly, but not fit to lead others. Our advice would only lead others into peril.
Our Gospel today is in two distinct parts. The first section could easily be omitted as it belongs to a section where Matthew has Jesus confronting the representation of tradition. Both sections are very similar to Mark chapter 7 but it seems that Matthew is emphasising certain points for his community. It was one of the ongoing discussions with Pharisees answered with another question and highlighting a questionable shift in interpretation whereby an item deemed an offering to God, Qorban, exempts from being used to care for parents. High handed adherence to additional laws imposed on community and not actually validated by the Commandments did not eradicate misguided intent. Once again it is about Kingdom living, about restoring true values with pure intent, not anything lapsing into self serving or especially as if handled behind a mask which in those days was a form of theatre and a meaning of hypocrite. It also stamps down suggestions that Gentiles are excluded from God, a more cogent argument was whether the Kingdom was exclusive to the chosen people or from a path aligned through them. Our other readings also make welcome the foreigner and make acceptable their sacrifices without making them lose all sense of identity. God takes them forward from heritage. In the main passage, for whatever reason a Jesus and the disciples are on retreat away from the usual mission and a woman of that area, gentile and not well respected for Matthew labels a Canaanite as if to say pagan, comes with her need for healing for her daughter. Surprisingly for our ears, Jesus wants to exclude her as his mission is focused on the children of Israel as a first priority, older words used were dismiss her which is poorly portrayed here as Send her Away which is far more definitive as dismiss could expect the disciples to simply deal with her. She remains persistent. Then he makes the statement about being unfair to take the food from the children and throw it to the dogs under the table. Now here it becomes interesting, for she then seems to challenge Jesus but she had said Yes Lord, in some older versions it is written Truth Lord, so it is not overturning but affirming and cleverly still making her petition humbly. She is not asking for Jesus to divert his mission but to be gracious even to her, despite the fact that referral to dogs under the children's table not the Masters Table could have been extremely demeaning. The dogs get to eat the crumbs and are so sustained even if the food is not firstly destined for them.
Jesus recognises and lauds her faith and the daughter is healed.
What does that mean for the people of all places? None are finally excluded, the love of God through Christ is available for all of us when we draw near with faith. Not in any sense of perfection, easily having missed the point, but as we are, with faith in Him and desire to continue Kingdom living of respect, grace, honour and love without exclusion. By living in this way, the world is transformed, the social Gospel redeems those who prosper and those who are unfortunate, we play our part but it is the sacrificial love of Christ that directs and motivates the achievements we make. We look to the Holy Spirit to guide us to new opportunities, ways and times when we can be agents of love, usually in the most simple of ways, by presence, by listening, by valuing, by accepting, by responding to needs of others, by caring, by being ourselves and not something we are not, by humility.
We may miss the point if we do not reflect, if we are wholly impulsive, if we are not grounded in prayer, we don't have to be rebellious but we do need to take responsibility.
In a few moments, we come to the Eucharist, a time of all sharing in recognition of the teaching in Jesus. At the moment we come to receive the bread and wine, we put away ourselves, our identity, we come in humility, just as we are, successful and with failure, disappointment and new hope. We come ready for the love of God to transform us and renew us, to make us whole in the sight of God. We come not because of what we have done, or wanted to do. We come ready to receive the grace of God in a simple yet profound action. Willing to be healed from any sense of pride, or injury, in faith and in sure hope.
We often pray together as will so many in so many places with words we recognise, words that are in countless liturgies across denominations, a prayer that from the Gospel today reminds us that our position is no barrier, our achievement or status is no barrier, our faith is key and the love of God through Jesus completes. This is not printed in today's order of service but we include it now.
We do not presume
to come to this your table, merciful Lord
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same Lord
whose nature is always to have mercy.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.